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Edward Snowden: the best views on the spook who grassed up Obama

by | 14th, June 2013

Pro-democractic legislator Claudia Mo holds a copy of George Orwell's "Nineteen Eighty-Four" next to a picture of U.S. President Barack Obama and Edward Snowden during a news conference in Hong Kong Friday, June 14, 2013. Two lawmakers in Hong Kong said on Friday that they had written to U.S. President Obama to try to persuade him not to bring charges against the former US intelligence contractor Snowden. Snowden revealed last weekend he was the source of a major leak of top-secret information on NSA surveillance, saying he was uncovering wrongdoing. He spoke to reporters from an undisclosed location in the semiautonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)

DOCUMENTS leaked by US techy spook Edward Snowden show us that the US government is able to access details of smartphone and internet activity under a scheme called Prism. The allegation is that the US intelligence agencies have an open line to Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Yahoo, Skype and Apple. They also record all of your phone calls. The Guardian reprots that the UK’s electronic surveillance agency, GCHQ, has access to the data. This might explain why the taxes for so many big Internet firm are so low. The elite want to keep paying foreign companies for data on British citizens off the books.

 What does it all mean, though? We’ve picked out the best opinions on the news:

Mark Steyn:

Perhaps this is just the way it is in the panopticon state. Tocqueville foresaw this, as he did most things. Although absolute monarchy “clothed kings with a power almost without limits” in practice “the details of social life and of individual existence ordinarily escaped his control.” What would happen, Tocqueville wondered, if administrative capability were to evolve to bring “the details of social life and of individual existence” within the King’s oversight? Eric Holder and Lois Lerner now have that power. My comrade John Podhoretz, doughty warrior of the New York Post, says relax, there’s nothing to worry about. But how do I know he’s not just saying that because Eric Holder’s monitoring his OnStar account and knows that when he lost his car keys last Tuesday he was in the parking lot of Madam Whiplash’s Bondage Dungeon?

When the state has the power to know everything about everyone, the integrity of the civil service is the only bulwark against men like Holder. Instead, the ruling party and the non-partisan bureaucracy seem to be converging. In August 2010, President Obama began railing publicly against “groups with harmless-sounding names like Americans for Prosperity” (August 9th, a speech in Texas) and “shadowy groups with harmless-sounding names” (August 21st, radio address). And whaddayaknow, that self-same month the IRS obligingly issued its first BOLO (Be On the Look-Out) for groups with harmless-sounding names, like “tea party,” “patriot,” and “constitution.”

It may be that the strange synchronicity between the president and the permanent bureaucracy is mere happenstance and not, as it might sound to the casual ear, the sinister merging of party and state. Either way, they need to be pried apart. When the state has the capability to know everything except the difference between right and wrong, it won’t end well.

Do we trust Obama?

Seth Masket:

 In my view, it’s hard for poll respondents to evaluate NSA surveillance, or any powerful government tool, without considering who’s in charge of it. When people are asked what they think about the government having this power, they’re implicitly being asked what they think about President Obama having this power. Is it really hackish for people to be more comfortable with a governmental power if they know someone they more or less trust is going to be in charge of it? Is it hypocritical to think that police state tactics are necessary when someone who shares your values is deploying them but excessive when someone hostile to your values is deploying them? Democrats are basically saying, “Yes, this is potentially problematic, but we trust Obama to do it right,” and Republicans said the same thing about Bush.

It never really came to a vote, but when Batman developed the technology to use all of Gotham’s residents’ cell phones as a giant crime detection device, I’m sure residents as a whole would have preferred Lucius Fox running that device than, say, the Joker doing so, even if they saw the device itself as morally questionable.

But Obama said it’d be better.

Michael White:

Bin Laden would be chuckling in his grave today if he had a sense of humour or indeed a grave. Like a street brawler who starts a fight or a demagogue who burns down a mosque to create fear and repression, Ossie is getting what he wanted – or will do if all don’t push back and restrain the self-aggrandising features of the security state.

But what about Hope and Change?

John Althouse Cohen:

I’m not sure which is worse: the NSA surveillance programs themselves, or the fact that the leaks about them have caused normally reasonable people to publicly commit themselves to so many strange notions in a desperate attempt to defend the Obama administration, e.g. “The whole concept of privacy is obsolete,” “Gathering data about phone calls doesn’t raise serious privacy concerns,” “Surveillance is unobjectionable if it’s been going on for many years,” “We don’t have to worry about the 4th Amendment as long as a judge is willing to rubber-stamp the government’s actions without any adversarial process,” etc.

Can we see the data, too, please

David Aaronovitch (Times):

Back in 1999, according to Wired magazine, Scott McNealy, the chief executive of Sun Microsystems told Americans: “You have zero privacy. Get over it.” This week, after the NSA story, the outspoken Mr McNealy was making a distinction. He asked: “Should you be afraid if AT&T has your data?

Google? They’re private entities. AT&T can’t hurt me. Jerry Brown [Governor of California] and Barack Obama can.”

If I were an American I would be more likely to trust the State whose head I elect than a company over whom I can exercise no accountability, other than not to buy or use a product. But there is some force to the argument that free speech may be inhibited online if you think the government might have access to it all. There is force too to the suggestion that what might feel safe under that nice Mr Obama would feel less comfortable with a Nixon in the White House. And force again to the worry that security agencies aren’t quite as fabulously competent as they depict themselves (think of Peter Wright, Geoffrey Prime and David Shayler).

More subtle is the worry that the fallibilities traditionally affecting enforcement agencies (confirmation bias, for example) could operate at a hugely scaled-up rate when applied to looking for patterns in vast databases. As in: “This one scores 11 out of 20 on the radicalisation index. Let’s see what he does next.”

I believe that in the choice (as choice there will often be) between privacy and information, we should and we will usually choose information. But this is a mediated choice and it seems to me that the only way of adjudicating this question of what is held on us, and by whom, comes down in the end to proportionality and transparency.

On proportionality take yesterday’s announcement of the database involving 11 million records of 350 cancers diagnosed across 50 million English people going back 30 years. In the wrong hands, as they say, it would be conceivably possible to identify cases. But the benefit of the database as opposed to the danger of misuse seems obvious. And I daresay the security services would say the same.
The problem is they might be wrong. And the only way we could conceivably weigh up the risk as against the benefit is if we know what they are doing. Not in micro detail, but sufficient for us to be able to trust those who act in our names and the laws that govern their activities. If privacy is to be surrendered then the price of our transparency is theirs. Without it, the deal won’t work.

Who is there left to trust?

David Brooks (New York Times):

“But Big Brother is not the only danger facing the country. Another is the rising tide of distrust, the corrosive spread of cynicism, the fraying of the social fabric and the rise of people who are so individualistic in their outlook that they have no real understanding of how to knit others together and look after the common good. This is not a danger Snowden is addressing. In fact, he is making everything worse. For society to function well, there have to be basic levels of trust and cooperation, a respect for institutions and deference to common procedures. By deciding to unilaterally leak secret NSA documents, Snowden has betrayed all of these things.”

But if you’ve nothing to hide, nothing to fear.

Matt Miller (Washington Post):

“There are people I respect who say Snowden is a hero. I think they’re dead wrong. Thinking about ‘big data’ is a little like imagining how things look to God (assuming God exists). God may love you personally, but she’s a little too busy to worry about whether you get that raise you deserve. The National Security Agency (NSA) may have access to every bit and byte in the land, but the unfathomable river of information their algorithms must mine means no one’s focusing on the text you sent to that guy in accounting.”

 

But what exactly are you hiding if the law moves and grows?

Wired:

“We won’t always know when we have something to hide. . . . If the federal government can’t even count how many laws there are, what chance does an individual have of being certain that they are not acting in violation of one of them? . . . If the federal government had access to every email you’ve ever written and every phone call you’ve ever made, it’s almost certain that they could find something you’ve done which violates a provision in the 27,000 pages of federal statues or 10,000 administrative regulations. You probably do have something to hide, you just don’t know it yet.”

What about the whistleblower? Why is he a hero? Maybe he just prefers working for the other side?
Snowden’s codename in his dealings with journalists was Verax, Latin for ‘one who tells the truth’. But did we need him? Didn’t we suspect that Big Government had its eye on us?

“Not only do they ignore or disregard the fact that the government has carved out national security exceptions to protect power from disclosures that Snowden made by ensuring that he can be prosecuted, jailed and effectively silenced no matter how he makes disclosures, but they cheerlead for zealous prosecution of these individuals for periods of time that exceed the length of time they would ever advocate for torturers, war criminals or those who commit felonies in violation of laws intended to protect individual rights and liberty in theUnited States. Which means that when people like Edward Snowdencome forward, not only do they have to fear their own government but they also have to fear their country’s media and the pundits who populate the airwaves because they fully understand they will become victims of news coverage that might as well be paid propaganda produced by senior officials inside the national security state.”

 

 

Meanwhile…

ZNet:

“While the attention has been focused on the new NSA datacenter in Utah, a re-evaluation, 3 years into the Federal Datacenter closure program, identifies an additional 3,000 facilities that fall under the closure consolidation mandate. Granted, under the loose definition of datacenter that the government is using that could mean 3,000 racks hidden in 3,000 utility closets throughout the country, but how can any organization not know where its data processing and storage facilities actually reside?”

They’re watching. And we should be told…

Photo: Pro-democractic legislator Claudia Mo holds a copy of George Orwell’s “Nineteen Eighty-Four” next to a picture of U.S. President Barack Obama and Edward Snowden during a news conference in Hong Kong Friday, June 14, 2013. Two lawmakers in Hong Kong said on Friday that they had written to U.S. President Obama to try to persuade him not to bring charges against the former US intelligence contractor Snowden. Snowden revealed last weekend he was the source of a major leak of top-secret information on NSA surveillance, saying he was uncovering wrongdoing. He spoke to reporters from an undisclosed location in the semiautonomous Chinese territory of Hong Kong. (AP Photo/Kin Cheung)



Posted: 14th, June 2013 | In: Key Posts, Politicians, Technology Comments (3) | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink