Ten Years Ago, Edward Snowden Warned Us About State Surveillance ⇥ theguardian.com
David Smith, the Guardian:
It was the day his life changed forever. When Edward Snowden blew the whistle on mass surveillance by the US government, he traded a comfortable existence in Hawaii, the paradise of the Pacific, for indefinite exile in Russia, now a pariah in much of the world.
But 10 years after Snowden was identified as the source of the biggest National Security Agency (NSA) leak in history, it is less clear whether America underwent a similarly profound transformation in its attitude to safeguarding individual privacy. Was his act of self-sacrifice worth it – did he make a difference?
Jessica Lyons Hardcastle, the Register:
The architecture put in place to curb surveillance misuse including FISA, FISC and the US House and Senate select committees on intelligence was all created in the late 1970s as a reaction to Hoover-era abuses. These are all good ideas in theory, but not necessarily in practice – especially after 9-11 when the US government essentially greenlighted mass domestic spying for the sake of preventing another terrorist attack.
“Ten years have gone by,” since the first Snowden disclosures, “and we don’t know what other kinds of rights-violating activities have been taking place in secret, and I don’t trust our traditional oversight systems, courts and the Congress, to ferret those out,” [Ben Wizner, of the ACLU] said. “When you’re dealing with secret programs in a democracy, it almost always requires insiders who are willing to risk their livelihoods and their freedom to bring the information to the public.”
Alan Rusbridger, editor of the Guardian at the time it published stories based on documents Snowden leaked:
Even now the British government, in hastily revising the laws around official secrecy, is trying to ensure that any editor who behaved as I did 10 years ago would face up to 14 years in prison. Lamentably, the Labour party is not joining a cross-party coalition that would allow whistleblowers and journalists the right to mount a public interest defence.
So do not hold your breath for future Edward Snowdens in this country. The British media is, by and large, not known for holding its security services rigorously to account, if at all.
I remember the week when articles based on these disclosures began showing up. I remember being surprised not by the NSA’s espionage capabilities — that much was hinted at — but by its brazen carelessness about operating at a scale which would ensure illegal collection. Snowden’s heroic whistleblowing gave the world a peek into this world, but it was ever so brief. There is little public knowledge of the current capabilities of the world’s most intrusive surveillance agencies — by design, of course — and even the programmes exposed by Snowden continue to be treated with extreme secrecy. My FOIA requests from that week remain open.
One other thing which has become clear in the past ten years is that intelligence agencies and their leaders were lying as they repeatedly claimed their expansive dragnet surveillance mechanisms were saving us from deadly terrorist plots left and right. Snowden’s whistleblowing and the resulting tightening of online security practices, they implied, would cost lives. Setting aside the suggestion for all of us to be under constant surveillance for ease of policing, in the years that followed, it has only become clearer that none of this has any bearing in reality. These systems had a poor track record of efficacy at the time, vectors for law enforcement have only increased since, and even the NSA’s contemporaneous star example was quickly exposed as the product of targeted and specific surveillance.