We had our other tech writer Marius do an article on Edward Snowden as we were wanting to have differing viewpoints on his actions as in the United States, he is still considered a traitor while being hailed as a hero around the rest of the world. While Marius was seeing Snowden more in the light of someone freeing information that should be free, David has written this one which takes more of a centrist view. You can read both and see if you find yourself agreeing with one or the other or maybe finding valid points in both articles.
Edward Snowden is a system administrator who has worked in numerous roles and for companies including Dell as well as the central intelligence agency (CIA).
He is perhaps most famous for his disclosure of thousands of classified documents that he managed to access whilst working for the NSA. Edward released these documents through various media channels in June 2013. After these acts he became one of the worlds most wanted men and had some difficult times ahead attempting to evade capture by various authorities.
He now lives in an undisclosed location in Moscow, Russia but is still actively seeking asylum in Europe.
This particular topic as with any topic that centres on privacy is a very controversial one and there are many different opinions about what Snowden did and whether it was justified.
On one side of the argument there is the argument against the violation of our private data as members of the public – there was tremendous uproar when some of these secrets were leaked detailing what the NSA and other security agencies had been up to. One of the key points that were leaked in these documents was the amount of private companies that the NSA and other security agencies had agreements with in terms of information provision. For example the fact that the NSA had direct access to data stored on servers owned by top tech giants such as Google, Facebook and Microsoft.
Of course this is a potential invasion of privacy and it’s easy to be very affronted by these revelations – how could the NSA do this with a clear conscience? In addition it became apparent that the NSA even had tools that have been built to make the acquisition and searching of all this data seamless – basically providing them with an all-encompassing window into the Internet and almost all of the data that it contains – website data, user search history, email access and much more. It is very scary to think that almost anything we do on the Internet can be easily tapped into and accessed and it’s not difficult to be insulted by this fact.
On the other side is the argument that transparency is crucial for national security and even for our safety as a society. It is also fair to say that as an individual, if you are not doing anything illegal then there should be no reason why you would worry about what you do being observed – for example if you are surfing the internet, shopping, sending emails to friends etc. why does it matter if it’s possible that this information could be viewed by security agencies?
These two arguments would put the actions of Edward Snowden in very different lights – if you believe that data privacy is crucial and fundamentally disagree with the activities of the NSA and other security agencies then Edwards leaking of these documents would seem just – it could well be considered a very good thing that the documents were made public, people were made aware of these practices and the NSA and other agencies were made to stand up and be accountable for their actions. In fact this did happen and there have been some positive changes since these leaks – The NSA are now being much more public about their requirements for data monitoring and are requesting so called front door access to the data held by companies such as Google. This more transparent approach is perhaps something that Snowden was aiming for when he leaked these documents in the first place.
If on the other hand you look at the national security element of the leaks and believe that it is important for security agencies to have access to public data in order to protect the country as a whole then the leaks made by Snowden could be viewed in a very different light and in fact could well be considered a breach of national security and of detrimental value to all of us.
I actually find it a very difficult situation to take sides on – I do find the content of the leaked documents very interesting and I can see that there has been some good to come from the leaks – having more transparency and communication from the security agencies such as the NSA can only be a good thing as it will educate the public as to their efforts and ultimate goals.
Having said that I can fully understand the national security agencies need to have access to data and to be able to look at all communications in the interests of national safety.
I always look at these things from a purely technical point of view – if I were in the position of the NSA and responsible for national safety, tasks with protecting society from criminals (which is ultimately their job) then of course I would do everything in my power to action this task. I would consider any private data, encrypted communications and social media records to be barriers to my job and of course I would want my view of all of this information to be as transparent as possible. So from that point of view I tend to stand on the side of the security agencies – ultimately because I know that I would do exactly the same thing in their situation – in fact probably more so.
Because of this opinion I would also tend to disagree with the leaking of this information by Edward Sowden, Ultimately I believe that the practices carried out by the NSA – whilst not necessarily always legal or morally right – were undertaken with the best intentions and therefor what Edward Snowden did simply acted to pervert good intentions and this is what I fundamentally don’t agree with. If you assessed the situation from a very simplistic view of good and bad then the NSA were trying to stop bad things from happening and Edward was essentially acting for the other side when he made the leaks.
Having said that, I do understand the arguments on both sides of this debate and I would love to hear some views from readers of this article.