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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… Read more

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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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