Much has been written about NSA whistle-blower Edward Snowden since the story of NSA’s massive surveillance program broke. Some paint him as a liar and a traitor, others as a hero, others as a grandiose narcissist, and still others simply muddle the issue with confusing opinions and allegations. Thus, it is always helpful to go directly to the source, and in this case Snowden’s recent Q&A is quite helpful.
For instance, Snowden was asked, “can you describe the exact moment when you knew you absolutely were going to do this, no matter the fallout”?
I imagine everyone’s experience is different, but for me, there was no single moment. It was seeing a continuing litany of lies from senior officials to Congress – and therefore the American people – and the realization that that Congress, specifically the Gang of Eight, wholly supported the lies that compelled me to act. Seeing someone in the position of James Clapper – the Director of National Intelligence – baldly lying to the public without repercussion is the evidence of a subverted democracy. The consent of the governed is not consent if it is not informed.
And isn’t this the real problem? I understand the need to keep secrets, but how can Congress possibly provide proper oversight when even they are lied to? And yes, Congress has been notorious for leaking, which is why the most important secrets are only known by “Gang of Eight”. But even still, a program on the scale of the NSA surveillance program is exactly the kind that requires the consent of the governed. After all, we’re talking about giving the government the ability to store and access unimaginable amounts of information on every single citizen in the country.
Snowden also said this:
More detail on how direct NSA’s accesses are is coming, but in general, the reality is this: if an NSA, FBI, CIA, DIA, etc analyst has access to query raw SIGINT databases, they can enter and get results for anything they want. Phone number, email, user id, cell phone handset id (IMEI), and so on – it’s all the same. The restrictions against this are policy based, not technically based, and can change at any time.
For me, this is a key point. Yes there may presently be some policy based restrictions on access to this information. But policies can be changed at ANY time — especially given that so few people even know what the policies actually are! When even our congressmen are directly lied to about these policies, how can we possibly trust that the policies haven’t already crossed the line?
The problem here is that this truly massive mountain of information that NSA has collected on us is so powerful that it can be exploited in ways that few can even imagine right now. What was previously only science fiction now seems like a very real possibility. Building this surveillance infrastructure is like building Skynet and then wondering why things go badly when they eventually do.
Skynet is mere fiction. What the NSA has built is real. That’s the problem.
The Guardian continues to lead with coverage on this topic, and a good link to that coverage is their page on Edward Snowden.