Assange & Snowden: whistleblowers of the internet (Tec Collaboration)

// Posted by on 02/14/2014 (5:01 PM)

By: Molly Reilly, Deirdre O’Halloran, Rachel Hall, and Claire Hollingsworth

You can be in your own home on your personal computer or tablet, yet there are people out there who can see everything you search, watch, and do. When you visit certain websites they install a “cookie,” which is a piece of data kept in your browser to track your activity once you’ve opened that web page. The purpose of this is to store information for your convenience (added items in a shopping cart, edits to your facebook page), however it seems crazy that numerous websites can then access your personal information. Tracking and third-party tracking cookies can be used to get hold of your long-term history; even beyond when you had authorized a site to put a cookie on your computer (created a username or account).

This lack of privacy and lack of regulations were just a few of the reasons Edward Snowden felt an obligation to the American people to expose the NSA. His core beliefs of freedom of privacy and freedom on the internet lead him to make this massive sacrifice and turn over confidential documents. Snowden was quoted in the guardian article Edward Snowden: the whistleblower behind the NSA surveillance revelations, as saying “I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.” The lack of privacy at the corporate level through cookies and data tracking is a source of great concern, however the fact of government sponsored tracking is of much greater concern.

While it might not be completely ethical, corporations have gotten around the laws in order to capitalize on the data available on the internet for their own personal gain. The government, on the other hand should be there to set guidelines helping to protect us from these very corporations, not utilizing the same tactics they implement. Snowden exposed these policies in hopes of forcing government officials to rethink how they gather data and making a more transparent U.S. government. While we will never really know the extent to which Snowden made an impact on NSA policy, it has made everyone in the U.S. more aware and wary of the policy regarding privacy. We could say he has successfully completed his goal of transparency to a small degree, allowing this information exposed and analyzed.

The article “Leaky Geopolitics” looks at the unprecedented reactions of the “free world” in attempting to take down WikiLeaks and Julian Assange.  The author’s bias is evident from the very beginning: any charges against Assange were trumped up by a capitalist-governmental elite class to attempt to discredit him after the leaks began.  The way this article looks at the idea of crime — outside of formal charges, in the court of public opinion — seems to be a pretty accurate way of representing how people are perceived on the internet.  But the court of public opinion seems to be pretty divided on WikiLeaks: groups like Anonymous that prize freedom of information have stood behind the site, but other groups point to a security risk that can come from leaking government documents.

The idea that WikiLeaks and the public reaction to it can have such profound impacts on the geopolitical order –that it can lead people to question the authority of the state, and to think critically about issues of transparency and privacy — leads me to question if, in some ways, Assange and Snowden may have really won, regardless of the threats on their heads.  If the goal was to spur a conversation about these limits, it seems impossible to say that they didn’t achieve that goal with flying colors. The article also takes on the question of the government-industry connection in looking at the corporate responses of MasterCard, PayPal, etc, in taking on the role of protector and enforcer: roles usually reserved for the government, after extensive trial.  The success of WikiLeaks in exposing this portion of the problem also seems pretty undeniable.

In another article, “The War on Wikileaks and Why it matters” Author Glenn Greenwald illustrates the ways in which the U.S. Government has responded to the wikileaks. Wikileaks and Snowden have been a topic of great controversy and debate.  This has surely set the stage for political and public conversation surrounding privacy and regulation of the internet. As government officials the army and its supporters consider snowden to be a criminal and traitor, supporters of Snowden and the wikileaks revolution, see these actions as efforts to expose the government in the name of freedom of information.  Those opposed to wikileaks consider it a threat to American national safety, while Greenwald suggest sites like wikileaks are vital to Americans to provide information where the media is becoming more unreliable at “exactly a time when U.S. government secrecy is at an all-time high, the institutions osensibly responsible for investigation, oversight and exposure have failed”.  This is mostly because media and journalism are generally co-opted outlets controlled and regulated by the U.S. government more so than ever  as “private efforts to manipulate public opinion has proliferated”. Wikileaks, who consider their work to serve as the intelligence agency of the people, see the governments efforts to harass and ultimately destroy them altogether as a result of feeling threatened.

This provokes the idea, is information free?? If its not, should it be? Do we as citizens have the right to know information considered “classified”?  Wikileaks also exemplifies the rise of the term “netizen” in which people are turning to the web as a medium to facilitate social and political change. Is this a good thing? or potentially detrimental?  Setting aside personal views and opinions on the ethical side of wikileaks, it is undeniable that it has opened up the door for conversation as to whether digitization and diplomacy is helpful, or harmful.

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Tec said...

Ezequiel Palacios Romero
International Relations

What Edward Snowden and Julian Assange did was the bravest thing someone could ever do. The people who have worked in those environments, the ones that have to do with obtaining information for security purposes, they know how dangerous is if they share a little or some information just to one person. They know that if they get caught not just their by their local government, but also by governments from every part of the world will see them as betrayers of the nation or as terrorist for putting in risk the security of the state. That’s what Assange and Snowden knew, but they didn’t care because in their minds they couldn’t accept being part of such a criminal activity. There’s a time in our lives when we realize that what we’re doing is not just what we want and neither it coincide with the way we think. So these men understood that the entire world needed to know what is really happening in the international arena. The reality is not always the one that we think we see.
With the globalization and the exaggerated increase in technological advances the US saw a great opportunity to keep his hegemony alive. This great opportunity is the cyberspace, a place that at these days there’s no international law that regulate the actions that happen inside it. It is known that before the cyberspace existed, the US have used many kinds of maneuvers to keep an eye on countries, people or companies that may seem suspect for them. So what the US is doing is violating the sovereignty not just of the states that are part of the international structure, but also they’re violating the privacy and the rights of the citizens of the world.
Now that that we’re talking about the citizens, citizens from every country, is when our privacy is being violated. The US is trying to control and dominate the cyberspace spying on the internet, not just websites and social networks, but also our personal mail accounts.
The US is spending big amounts of money to eradicate cyber terrorism. In fact, nowadays, the countries need to have a special cyber military army, which is full of expert hackers that know perfectly how the cyberspace works. That is a consequence of the action that Assange and Snowden did. The countries received the information that US was spying on them, so they initiated a special strategy to protect all kind of information and communications.
To conclude, I want to say that this topic is really important to all of us, it implies many issues that need to be resolved by every country. I think that the George Orwells’ 1984 novel is the real version of what we’re living in these days. With the social networks and the information that we keep in our computers, not a single person is safe from having its own privacy respected. So what are we going to do?

// 02/17/2014 at 5:55 pm

Tec said...

Raúl Ochoa A00811852

Hi Molly, Deirdre, Rachel and Claire. I’m glad you pointed out other corporations have been doing the same thing as the government for a long time with no reaction. I got an idea (which I’ll explain later) while reading how these different actors, US government, Snowden, Wikileaks and citizens have a different perspective about this lack of privacy and regulations.

I think that people should know about what the State is doing, that’s why I would propose to institutionalize whistle blowers as an organization with the mission of comparing the information the State gives to its population in order to identify if it is correct or not. At the same time, it would regulate the information flow trying not to expose the States, but letting them know they are being watched.

The problem here is that no State as United States or other great powers in the international system would agree to do this, because they would not want to set free their complete secret information, due to uncertainty of who would get this information. Once it is open to public, they cannot avoid their enemies’ use it against them. That’s why this institution wouldn’t make the States open all their secret files, or at least those whose could be used by their enemies to take an advantage that could damage them.

As I already said, it would only regulate the information flow and to ensure the privacy of the citizens is protected. I want to make sure there is no gathering of secret information related to the private companies and no tracking on the private individuals. Furthermore, I recommend that we have transparent processes, and all information related to intelligence agencies is shared with us, in order to ensure that citizens are protected but not spied on.

In order to develop this institutionalization, we need to support it with a great power behind it. The UN cannot do this, because, in first place, it would be hard to be accepted by the Security Council. Moreover, because the UN is integrated by States, it cannot be freed from States’ interests.

So, what great power should be created to protect this new institution without being influenced by States? One way I believe this great power I am talking about doesn’t get in the middle of states’ interests is creating an International Civil Organization integrated by NGOs. Nowadays these nongovernmental organizations play an important role in the international system. An upper organization with no representatives of the states would let a more open arena for discussion and action.

// 02/21/2014 at 8:33 pm

Tec said...

Estefanía Garza
Political Science

When talking about rights, if we think of the U.S. we immediately think of it as “the free country”, or at least a few years ago. How is freedom over there nowadays standing?
To answer your question about information being free, or if it should be, I must recall the U.S. Department of State’s description of internet freedom: “we are champions of Internet Freedom because the Internet serves as a powerful platform to bring information and resources to people who historically have been isolated, or their human rights repressed, so they, too, have the chance to become active, prosperous, and engaged participants in the world community.” But when it comes to their own historically isolated citizens, their own human rights repressed, the U.S. government doesn’t want them to become active, prosperous and engaged participants in the world community because leaked information involves unethical practices from inside and it directly affects government’s prestige and credibility. It is a discrepancy in which no citizen could not or should not stand for, and therefore, people like Edward Snowden or Julian Assange should’ve been seen as great citizens, not as criminals. Having a clear example as of how government works to get specific information and violating its own standards, it really makes a dubious concern about congruency between what they say and what they really do.
With all respect as of you and your country deserve, my opinion relies on how can any citizen trust their government if the second one violates citizens’ main rights, justified as to protect them from threats, but these violated rights are the ones which the country mostly says it stands for? Specifically talking about privacy, free information and national security.

// 02/21/2014 at 8:53 pm

Tec said...

The powers of the state can be criticized on a myriad of subjects, issues, actions , decisions, and even ideologies , even if what really matters is the result of the methodology used to solve the problems of society. However, rarely will international community recognize the State’s benevolent intentions guarding the sovereignty of its nations with other States around the world. Hardly a political elite act against the people of his country in a dilemma against other countries, even if these bilateral relations have ethnic or cultural ties, and undermining their ability to ave these “secrets” is a step hard to the sovereignty of any nation. What Edward Snowden did translates as the most aggressive act against the state privacy worldwide, it was not the United States the only country exposed to the public, but revealed facts, illegal or not, questionable or not, belonged to more than one state , raising the potential of economic blocs and political rivals to act against each other.
Who is Snowden, to infiltrate into the issues that the political elite of the country so jealously guarded? Why would he perpetrate the “secrets” that could play tricks to his nation and to the world balance? Human rights take second place when you want to safeguard the integrity and stability of nations, or at least that’s my point of view. Corruption or neglect to act is a different matter, but falling into the fallacy that the idealism of the act and liberalization of the information for other international actors is convenient for all, is basically granting unimaginable power to virtually ALL of them, and predicting the result of a chain of this kind of power is comparable to a clash of interests of major scales, and therefore not beneficial for peace, security and sovereignty of the nations involved.

// 02/21/2014 at 9:50 pm

Tec said...

In response to Assange & Snowden: whistleblowers of the Internet.

By Aranzazu Ballesteros

A fantastic point you make when you speak about the lack of privacy users encounter when navigating through the Internet is that the government is not only making this actions. Information is so available to the companies that are online that it is used to decide the new path an enterprise or business will take. The fact is that when the government spies users, or gathers their information without the proper notification, it is legitimizing companies’ actions and there will be a precedent that will make it harder to fight against them. The truth is that nowadays people are thinking more about the safety of their information which will, hopefully, one day make it harder for it to be used with secrecy purposes.
However, surveys and data after the Snowden publications give us a sad approach to the subject. Because all people who are now over their 20s lived the 9/11, terrorism is a live threat for them and, therefore, security is essential (it should be to all of us but the level of it is the difference). Regardless of whether we think the information published by Wikileaks is important enough to, as you mention it, change the way the NSA runs, public opinion as a whole differs from that. In a survey conducted by Pew Center for the People and Press, 44% of the interviewees think that Snowden’s actions harmed public interest, leading 54% of them to think the government should pursue the criminal case. I bring this up to help us realize that even though some of us find this to be great violations, general opinion leans toward thinking that NSA’s programs are of public value.
At last, I would just like to point out that your final question is great as it is something that has been asked for years. I believe we do have to right to information, however, it is not free.

// 02/22/2014 at 12:11 am

Tec said...

You make a great analysis of the readings, especially the debates that it evoques. I would like to address specifically the questions you raise at the end. First, I claim that information is not free, even when one might thing that with the access to the Internet we have today it would be. First of all, in a lot of countries having this access is very expensive and, for example, in Mexico, not all population has this privileges. Also, even thou it access would be free of charge we would definitely still be paying a price, the price of privacy. Since most of the power over the internet is held in a few hands of a few States, when we access this databases we are also implicitly giving access to them to our privacy, and this is the key debate about wikileaks and Snowden. We are beginning to realize that at the end of the day, States held more power over us than we over them with the Internet. A citizen organization could never have done what the NSA was doing, not only because it would be illegal but also because it wouldn’t have the tools or resources to do so. In relation to “classified” information, I think what we as citizens are dealing with is a trade-off. You cannot have the cake and eat it. There is an implicit cession of rights from the population to the government to trust what that they are doing what is best. I am not saying we should eliminate accountability but there are some issues that if the government shared in its totality it would defeat the whole purpose, I’m thinking about the army, for example. If the army shared all its tactics with citizens in order to prove that their actions are not harmful, it would risk the success of the operation. I don’t mean this is the right way to go, but I think it is important to take it into account. I would like to end by addressing the concept of “netizen”. As a Columbia University research puts it, “Netizen’s community suggests that we use the current state (circa 1994) of the Internet/NSFnet/Usenet/etc as a model for the upcoming. In order to do this, it is necessary to be aware of the history of the Net and its current holders” (Columbia University, 2009) The importance of taking into account who has what in the internet “distribution” is key to evaluating the possibility of a “netizenship”. The idea by itself is a very democratic one, but may be unrealistic due to the current balance of power.

Columbia University. (2009). Retrieved February 2014, from

// 02/22/2014 at 12:27 am

Tec said...

Claudia Reséndez

I agree with Ezequiel, Snowden and Assange have done something very brave, compromising their freedom in search of a fairer world and a more transparent and humanitarian government. However, I believe that the exposure of the NSA is an extremely delicate issue. On the one hand, we have aspects as the freedom of expression and of information and the privacy issue. On the other hand, it is also true that the exposure of government information can bring serious problems for national security. On the first point, my only recommendation is to create rules that regulate Internet activity, ie, the rights, obligations and limits of netizens and the government’s scope over private information of individuals, since clearly there should be tools to protect privacy. Regarding the second aspect, the exposure of government information proves to be a dilemma as this could create more transparent and humanitarian governments, nevertheless, there is also the threat to national security because other states or actors could use this information as a method of deterrence in order to satisfy their own interests.

Should information be free? I think yes, information should be free, but as I mentioned before, under a framework of regulations governing both, civilians and government officials.

Is positive that the web becomes a medium to facilitate social and political change?
I think in some way it could be a medium to facilitate social and political change, however, to achieve positive changes would be needed a really advanced social organization, because the possession of information also leads to blackmail for personal purpose; who possess information possess power.

// 02/22/2014 at 12:38 am

Tec said...

Sofia Potes

I relation to the question of whether information is free and how Assange poses a new communication outlet for classified information I believe that what we should be asking is whether information there should be private. There seems to be a difference between government classified information and private citizen information. On this note, Assange reveals classified government and diplomatic information that could alter relationships between countries, and the information that is most shocking of Snowden’s is how the NSA is watching and recording citizens information online and through their cellphones.

The United States government is pretty altered by both of these situations, which is highly hypocritical because it states that there is a need for classified information with Wikileaks but then this does not apply to that same stand for average citizens. Why, as stated by Snowden, should someone who is doing nothing wrong be investigated? Especially when citizens are well aware that those who are arguing for it won’t be completely transparent. However, this is not a new standpoint by the United States. When Wilson drafted his fourteen points there was a highlight of no secret diplomacy; nonetheless as it is usual for the Washington administration they have been involved in countless secret diplomacy situations before and after President Wilson proclaimed himself against it.

I believe that there are enough hackers in our society that would undeniably counter argue any position pro private information, we live in an era where mostly anything can be found on the internet, including phone records and others. However, in that case I believe that situations like Assange’s Wikileaks should be valued highly because it allows the government and citizens to sit in the same public sphere, where information is public and transparent, allowing citizens to make their own judgments about their governments political and diplomatic actions.

// 02/24/2014 at 11:25 am