DIGITAL AMERICA

Edward Snowden and Mass Surveillance

// Posted by on 05/26/2015 (10:05 PM)

Edward Snowden left a life of comfort seemingly due to his strong beliefs and opinions about government mass surveillance. Working for the NSA he was privy to confidential information and documents about the U.S. government and what it knows and about whom. From the many readings for this post I’ve come to see him not as a hero or a villain but rather as an intelligent young man with a sound basis and desire to do what he thinks is the right thing for all Americans. Notice I say what “he thinks” is right for us, but not necessarily what all Americans might agree is the right thing to do.

It’s obvious that the complexity of this issue is not easily summarized. There are technological pieces and parts that even Snowden said would be difficult for the average person without the high level training he has had to understand. Simply put, he wants us to know our government is spying on us without due cause. Snowden wants to release and disclose only those documents he feels are pertinent to domestic surveillance, not foreign. This causes me to consider how he distinguishes between right and wrong based on if the U.S. government is spying on domestic soil or foreign? He doesn’t seem to have an issue with foreign surveillance but definitely with domestic surveillance of unknowing citizens. Snowden made it clear in his interview with John Oliver that the average American does not understand just how complex the NSA is. This is a fair statement. I, for one, do not understand the intricacies of the NSA and why should I…if I trust by government. Herein lies the heart of this discussion.

After 9-11 and the Patriot Act was established, I don’t think many Americans were focusing on anything other than our government protecting us from foreign threats. We weren’t thinking of Patriot Act 215 which allows the government to ask businesses to handover any documents to prevent terrorism. After all, that seems reasonable in light of what had just occurred in our country and the number of deaths at the hands of terrorists. What Edward Snowden is focused on is educating the public on the breadth of intrusive, invasive surveillance that is occurring within the government. His mission is to enlighten the public in order to engage a conversation on the legitimacy of NSA actions.

Snowden’s plan seems well thought out and not a knee-jerk reaction to the knowledge he became aware of. He didn’t just one day think to himself…I’ll disclose government secrets to the world, flee the country and continue to keep feeding documents to journalist so the information will continue to be disclosed to the public. He was by all accounts a very smart man. I’m sure at one point, perhaps in the beginning of his recognition that what he was seeing or learning wasn’t what he personally felt big brother should be doing, he must have been scared just thinking about what he was going to do and formulating his plan. The actions he took aren’t one of a non-planning and systematically organized individual. He must have given a lot of thought as to how he would implement his plan to disclose the ills of the NSA.

Snowden tells us that the NSA knows all and that is pretty scary. Seriously, can the NSA store phone records of all Americans? Probably, yes. Can the NSA intercede and impede the fundamental rights of citizens? Snowden says absolutely they can and they do. He purports the information stored on servers is moved around from server to server and implicates Google, Facebook, Yahoo and others in his accusations. If what Snowden says and the documents he has leaked are true, then nothing we do is private because the government can access our online activities at any time. That would include phone calls, text, Skype, computer activity, etc. And it’s not just that Snowden viewed the invasion by the NSA as harmful to Americans, but also to foreign countries where the NSA had no purpose to collect information or monitor online activities.

If you’re looking at this from the point of view of the NSA they are of course going to substantiate any and all actions in the name of preventing terror attacks on the U.S. The last thing they want is a whistleblower like Snowden releasing the “secrets.” Snowden is a man on the run and hiding out from many people who are looking for him. It makes me wonder why if the NSA has the power to “know all” about anyone and anything, they can’t find Snowden…he has managed to evade those looking to bring him back to the U.S. for prosecution. Snowden presents the NSA’s actions as a blow to the fundamental concept of liberty for all Americans. He says the information is being used against us. He urges citizens to learn and understand the system so they have an opportunity to decide what kind of government they want to have. But, he also admits the technology is difficult to understand.

The way Snowden explains PRISM is a system run by the NSA that is used to gain access to private communications of users of the top nine Internet servers. I found myself asking, how does he know all of this information? Why has no one else come forward with him if the NSA’s surveillance is basically spying on citizens. Snowden couldn’t be the only person who knows this information. It’s too wide spread for him to be in this alone. I know he continues to pass information along to journalists so it can be communicated to the public but how did one man become the major whistleblower for such a large government agency as the NSA? I’m sure foreign countries would love to have Snowden’s knowledge. This makes him a marked man. How can he ever return to a normal life? He says he missed his family but his life’s mission is disclosing what the government is doing and the breadth and scope of information our government is collecting about us. I think Snowden is brave but I also think he has crossed a line in which he can never return. He will forever be on the fun from someone who wants his knowledge for good or for bad. He seems determined to stay the path no matter what the personal cost.

This brings up once again the age of digital America and is the Internet a good thing or a bad thing in the long run. What if Snowden had never come forward with any of this information? Would we be concerned about what we put online, text, or say on phone calls? Even now knowing who Snowden is and what he is trying to do (and has done), has it changed the average American’s life? Do we stop using the Internet, shut down our Facebook accounts and stop texting friends. No, we do not. I think at this point the government knows so much and has such a volume of information on everyone that is it almost incomprehensible and unimaginable to try and understand how it all works.

 


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Comments:


Rosatelli said...

Wonderfully thoughtful post, Lois. I’m glad you brought up the PRISM program, because it is one of the most fascinating for people who study mass surveillance. The government was having a hard time convincing some data companies, such as Yahoo and Google, to turn over their data. (Verizon, no problem!), and they were in back and forth battles for some time. These companies were saying “no” but they knew, somehow their data was being collected. Snowden revealed a PowerPoint presentation that showed how PRISM worked, they were basically collecting data that was moving in between servers–not on the internet. Think if you had a piece of mail in your mail box and as you were carrying it into your house, someone secretly scanned it. Needless to say, they freaked out. It’s this type of dishonesty that was particularly worrisome because private companies make promises to their consumers. It’s hard to imagine the scope of the NSA and what is actually happening, but it is possible to understand some of the cases/examples and think about them as representative of a larger conversation.

// 05/27/2015 at 8:22 pm