Hardly a sentient soul on planet Earth doesn’t know who Edward Snowden is, but few of them know of the ramifications and positives that are already coming as a result of his leak about NSA spying on Americans’ emails, voicemails, and IMs.
Because of his top-secret clearance across a broad spectrum of surveillance programs developed by the National Security Agency and the Central Intelligence Agency, Snowden had a rare opportunity to view the threats to privacy these agencies and their enablers have created. So he decided to do something about it: blow the whistle. Said Snowden, “I realized that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.”
In an interview with Glenn Greenwald, Snowden explained all that he could do from the desktop in his cubicle:
The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife’s phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards….
Any analyst at any time can target anyone. Any selector, anywhere. Where those communications will be picked up depends on the range of the sensor networks and the authorities that analyst is empowered with. Not all analysts have the ability to target everything.
But I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the [ability] to wiretap anyone, from you or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President if I had a personal email.
And his motivation for blowing the whistle?
I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things.… I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.
It’s going to cost him. His life as a highly paid, single, 29-year-old man with parents who work for the government (who have already been “visited” by the FBI) and a girlfriend, is now over. He is hiding somewhere in Hong Kong, hoping that the extradition treaty with the US has enough loopholes in it to keep him safe, at least for a while. But worthies such as John Boehner, John Bolton, and the inevitable Nancy Pelosi are all calling him a traitor and want him investigated and charged with treason under the Espionage Act. Some are comparing him to Daniel Ellsberg, the leaker of the Pentagon Papers, who was nearly sentenced to 115 years in jail for that. Ellsworth said that Snowden’s exposure is much more important.
Here’s the risk to our personal privacy as Snowden sees it:
Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. The storage capability of these systems increases every year, consistently, by orders of magnitude, to where it’s getting to the point where you don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call, and then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with, and attack you on that basis, to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.
There are significant positives already appearing as a result of Snowden’s efforts, with more to come. First off, Greenwald says that he and Snowden have merely exposed the tip of the iceberg in his revelations: “We are going to have a lot more significant revelations that have not yet been heard over the next several weeks and months. There are dozens of stories generated by the documents he provided, and we intend to pursue every last one of them.”
Next, folks in Europe don’t like being spied on any more than do Americans. The European Parliament is going to start debating about American intrusion into their personal emails next Tuesday. Said Guy Verhofstadt, a member of the EP and a leader of a liberal political party: “It would be unacceptable and would need swift action from the EU if indeed the U.S. National Security Agency were processing European data without permission.” So watch for fireworks there.
EU officials in Brussels are frightened as well and are holding their own “trans-Atlantic ministerial meeting” with American intelligence officials in Dublin later this week. That should also prove interesting.
Germany and the UK aren’t happy about the exposure of the fact that NSA has been spying on them for years, either. Some officials in Britain are futilely trying to assure Parliament that MP’s emails are safe, but it’s too late. And German Chancellor Angela Merkel is going to be questioning President Obama closely about the matter when he comes to visit on June 18th. Germany’s privacy rules are much stricter than in America, and these revelations could further tarnish that relationship.
Stateside, not just Republicans are upset with the disclosures. Extreme liberal Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) was quoted as saying as a result of Snowden’s revelations that “There’s very little trust in the government, and that’s for good reason. We’re our own worst enemy.”
Independent Senator Angus King from Maine, who caucuses with the Democrats, sits on the Senate Intelligence Committee. He doesn’t like what he sees, either: “It’s a little unsettling to have this massive data in the government’s possession.”
Activist lawyers on both sides of the ideological divide are already filing high-profile lawsuits. The ACLU and Yale Law School filed one on Monday to force the secretive FISA court to reveal its documents and opinions in its rulings that OK’d surveillance of Verizon’s customers’ emails. Larry Klayman is filing one for his group, Judicial Watch, claiming damage already done by the government’s collection of three billion phone messages every day.
Another positive development is that private software companies are close to offering affordable secure software programs to keep the government from snooping. It’s called “end-to-end” encryption software and must be installed on both ends of the communication highway, but it makes it vastly more difficult for snoops, even high-powered ones like NSA’s, to break in and steal.
There’s increasing pressure on network providers to offer a “tracking opt-out” provision to users interested in keeping things private. The free market of the Internet will make sure that that will soon be universally available.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of this leak by Snowden and Greenwald is that it’s one more problem for Obama. The man is clearly in over his head. The more he tries to deal with it, the more the public sees him for who he truly is: an arrogant invader of privacy for his totalitarian purposes.
Ron Paul said it best of all:
The government does not need to know more about what we are doing. We need to know more about what the government is doing. We need to turn the cameras on the police and on the government, not the other way around.
We should be thankful for writers like Glenn Greenwald, who broke last week’s story, for taking risks to let us know what the government is doing.
There are calls for the persecution of Greenwald and the other whistle-blowers and reporters. They should be defended, as their work defends our freedom.