Reactions About Recent Snowden Revelation

Glenn GreenwaldThere is a depressing new article over at The Guardian today by James Ball, Julian Borger, and Glenn Greenwald, US and UK Spy Agencies Defeat Privacy and Security on the Internet. It contains more revelations from the Edward Snowden files. I’ll be writing about it more, but basically it means that the NSA can break most forms of encryption, but they don’t even have to do that because they work with high tech companies to put weaknesses in products. I assume these weaknesses are things like back doors where the NSA and other spying agencies can just reach in and grab the data as easily as if they had the user’s password.

I already know what the reaction is going to be to all of this. The government will claim that this information should never have been leaked and that it puts American (UK, whatever) lives at risk. The high tech companies will claim that certainly they have never worked with the NSA—at least not when they weren’t forced to by law. And the media will claim that there is nothing new in this report. They will all be lying for their own selfish reasons.

None of this information ever puts lives at risk because to a very large extent: it can’t. The vast majority of documents are classified because they embarrass the government. The purpose is not to keep them away from our enemies but to keep them away from us. We see this again and again. Declassified documents from decades ago always turn out to be the most pathetic things that never should have been classified in the first place. And one of the good things that Clinton did while president was open things up a bit and declassify a lot of documents. When Bush came into office, the administration immediately started reclassifying documents. That shows how foolish the whole thing is.

I know the high tech mindset very well. And it is true that small young companies really do have high ideals. Most of them are also fairly anarchic in their thinking and don’t like the idea of government spying. It is all part of the internet mindset. But after these little startups become real companies, everything changes. Then they only care about such ideals as a branding issue. There are lots of economic reasons for these companies to play nice with the NSA and other questionable parts of the government. So of course they are providing the keys to all their customers’ data. And they don’t care about this at all—as long as their customers never find out.

The media obsession with claiming that none of this information is new is particularly interesting. It depends upon a kind of urbane cynicism that just assumes that the government is doing all kinds of bad stuff. So: of course the government is spying on all of us; only a rube thought anything else! There are two problems with this. First, there is a difference between suspecting and knowing. Second, by that logic, we don’t need journalists at all. Why do we hold up Woodward and Bernstein as heroes? After all, many people suspected that Nixon was up to no good. All they did was tell us that politicians are corrupt. Big deal!

So expect all of these very predictable reactions. But don’t buy them for a minute. The government, business community, and media are not our friends. They are doing everything they can to keep us in the weak, poor, and blind.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

0 thoughts on “Reactions About Recent Snowden Revelation

  1. Well, my take has always been that this is nothing new, but from a different perspective. When I read James Bamford’s 2002 "Body Of Secrets," a book I got from a discount publisher-dumping mail-order catalog, it detailed shit like the NSA stealing cell-phone signals bounced off the fucking moon. So I just assumed they were stealing pretty much every form of electronic communication known to man. The book was boring and didn’t sell well (nobody in 2002 wanted to buy a boring book saying one of our security agencies was insane), so I guess few others read it. I did and do remind friends not to type, even in jest or ironic quotes, anything that might be misconstrued by a crappy NSA search algorithm.

    Doesn’t mean I wasn’t appalled and outraged. Doesn’t mean I’m not thrilled Greenwald and Snowden have made this an issue the larger public is slightly more aware of now. But, c’mon, nobody who’s paid any attention to how these agencies work should be surprised. Our alphabet soup of "intelligence" agencies (really, how useful are they?) have been breaking US and international law for decades upon decades. That there’s some debate about it now is good, but that it happens is old, old news.

    On whether the newest "leaks" endanger anyone: Hmm, security forces can peek into e-communication. So a spooky terrorist group would have to hire a computer genius to encrypt/disguise their stuff. Computer geniuses all know that’s happening, anyway. If any of them felt that helping a terrorist group would fit their rebellious ideology, they’d already be working with terrorists.

    Under the "these leaks endanger lives" scenario, here’s what would happen: Computer genius is busy hacking Microsoft or Bank of America or whatever to protest power. Suddenly, he/she reads the newest Snowden leaks! Why, the US military/security establishment is just as big and oppressive as those companies I hate! Alas, alack! I must assist terrorists who want to blow up buildings at encrypting their files! Even though, before today, I’ve reserved my malevolence to creating annoying viruses and shutting down corporate websites for a few hours . . . now I want to help kill!

    Madness, madness . . .

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