7 reasons not to shrug at the Snowden revelations

05 Jun. 2015

This is the final post of our blog series on "why shrugging at the Snowden revelations is a bad idea".

Last Updated: 22 Sep 2015

Author: Maria Xynou, Researcher at Tactical Tech

This is the final blog of the MyShadow series: “Why shrugging at the Snowden revelations is a bad idea

Two years ago as of today, Edward Snowden started leaking confidential NSA documents which illustrate that a global surveillance ecosystem is being built right under our nose. Whether we like it or not, we are all part of it and it is limiting our control over our data and our lives.

Below are 7 reasons why I think we shouldn't shrug at the Snowden revelations:

1. Decreasing the security of the internet: Intelligence agencies have exploited thousands of networks around the world by infecting them with malware and by adding backdoors to computer network devices, such as routers and servers. They have also attempted to crack crypto and to exploit VPNs and anonymity software.

2. Unequal political advantage in global affairs and negotiations: Intelligence agencies spied on numerous international political leaders – including allies – to help their governments influence negotiations to their advantage. Such espionage has involved government representatives attending the Copenhagen Climate Summit, the Fifth Summit of Americas, the G8 and G20 Summits in Toronto, the G20 Summit in London, the United Nations Security Council and negotiations about the trans-Atlantic free trade agreement. All such cases of surveillance provided the U.S governemnt with an unfair political advantage within negotiations.

3. Reinforcement of geopolitical dynamics of power: By having access to most communications around the world, the NSA is in a position to aid allies with intelligence when that meets U.S geopolitical interests. The NSA not only aided Turkey in its operations against Kurdish separatists, but also supported Israel's surveillance of Palestinians.

4. Unfair corporate competitive advantage: Leaked documents illustrate that the NSA has intended on engaging in industrial espionage to improve the competitive advantage of U.S corporations.

5. Breach of consumer trust: Many of the companies that we might trust are not in a position to protect our data or are not interested in doing so. In some cases, intelligence agencies exploited the networks of telecom service providers (such as Belgacom) and tapped into the data centres of the internet's corporate internet giants (such as Google, Facebook and Yahoo). In other cases, companies, like Microsoft, worked hand-in-hand with the FBI to develop surveillance backdoors, while telecom service providers (such as a Vodafone subsidiary) helped intelligence agencies intercept undersea cables.

6. Global human rights violations and chilling effects: Intelligence agencies spy on almost all of our communications indiscriminately – regardless of whether we have “something to hide” or not – through a “collect-it-all” strategy. This is in violation of our human rights – particularly our right to privacy, which is a fundamental human right guaranted under Article 12 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This also raises concerns of chilling effects on free speech, free association and other human rights, since the range of viewpoints expressed and the degree with which to engage in political activity might be reduced as a result of our realisation that we are constantly under surveillance.

7. Opportunity to challenge (previously secret) authorisations for surveillance: We now have access to some of the secret orders and directives which authorise warrantless surveillance around the world. Executive Order 12333, for example, authorises the NSA to intercept communications for “foreign intelligence” purposes, without a warrant. Now that we are aware that such orders actually exist, we can challenge them legally.

Overall, the leaked documents reveal a larger, global, political issue: the private and public institutions that we trust with our information are part of a larger system which can – directly or indirectly – influence and affect our lives.

Snowden didn't leak the documents to disempower citizens, but to “give society a chance to determine if it should change itself”. And in many ways, his mission has already been accomplished.

The revelations have sparked an international debate on surveillance and on its implications on civil liberties. Corporations, such as Facebook, are enabling encryption and anonymity in their services for the first time. The significance of encryption and online anonymity is even being discussed on a UN level, having quite recently adopted a resolution on privacy and surveillance. More and more people are adopting the use of digital security tools, such as PGP for email encryption and Tor for online anonymity. You can too! Learn how to through Security in-a-box.

View the rest of the blog series here and/or check out our blog series timeline.

Source of image: http://www.thecommentator.com/article/4499/collapse_of_post_cold_war_security_establishment