The Informed

Snowden, The NSA and You: Part I


The means of defense against a foreign danger have been always the instruments of tyranny at home. - James Madison


Edward Snowden states in the first few minutes of his meeting with Linda Poitras in the film CITIZENFOUR, that he prefers to go by Ed. I find it interesting that, for some peculiar reason we all still insist on referring to him as Edward, and I wonder if this triviality might annoy him. If I were ever afforded the opportunity to pick this heroic man's brain, I would be tempted to ask him this question, but I probably wouldn't. A figure like this deserves our deepest gratitude and respect. For the purposes of this posting, however, I will refer to him simply as Mr. Snowden, but I digress. 

When Mr. Snowden decided, with a deliberate conscience, that he needed to expose the over-reach of authority that the NSA and it's affiliates and counterparts were exercising throughout the world, he did so because of his ideals and because he wanted to make the world a better place for all people (to make such personal sacrifice for the betterment of all, is this not in fact the very definition of heroic?). There is no question about his motivation to do what he did, in fact he's been quite frank about that, and (except for those that can only win their arguments through the manipulation of language and meaning) we can all understand this.

Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance. Media is of course where this form of tyranny is most obvious. - Albert Maysles

Like many of these issues, like virtually all of these issues in today's world, we are terribly, cripplingly polarized in our viewpoints. When we discuss such broad-reaching and fundamentally important issues as this, it becomes crucially important to do so with a pragmatic and nuanced approach. In this article, we will discuss why our progress and our freedom of expression and creativity depends on the freedoms and liberties that Mr. Snowden so nobly defends, and what we can do to stand in unity against the powers of surveillance, as daunting and pervasive as they are.

And like so many of the issues that we debate in these dark times, the issue at hand here is only a symptom of a greater problem, one that is seldom considered in the mainstream. We debate to what degree we need to sacrifice privacy and freedom in order to remain protected, but we need to ask ourselves a bigger question: do we want to live in a world that needs to defend our security with such extreme measures of despotic force? If we follow this logic to its end, then it can only be concluded that as technology and weaponry become more sophisticated, there will have to come a day when ultimate sacrifice of all of our privacy and freedom will have to occur in order to remain safe from our foes, wherever they may lie, domestic or foreign. This is not a world in which I want to live, and I think I can safely assume neither does Mr. Snowden. The fact that one does not engage in illegal activity and therefore should have nothing to hide is completely irrelevant, as is the argument that there will always be extremists at home and abroad that wish us harm. The fact that we live in a divided world, polarized, unequal and unjust, at war and at odds with our human neighbours and in fact nature herself - this is what is relevant. That is the issue we are facing, and to accept that this is our nature as human beings, that we must fight one another and mistrust one another forever, severely undermines our greatness and our capacity to cooperate and to love one another and develop.

The groundwork for our current views on privacy and the freedom inherent in it were laid when we began down that slippery slope after 9/11, as the Patriot Act and eventually Facebook created a new era of what they called privacy, whereby we all have to agree that we now live in an age where it simply doesn't exist anymore. Compound that with the fact that now there is a new generation, born not knowing a world before the Internet and Facebook, explicitly accepting these truths with wild abandon as they posted text and photos that would in time, ruin their prospects for Harvard or Yale, or even self-respect. Those days have come and gone and still the Internet marches on. It seems hard to even remember the once free and open Internet, and it's slipped from our narrative in past years that the Internet is the expression of our collective humanity and human thought. In fact, it seems almost shameful to think that this corporate, governmental surveillance system is the sum of our collective humanity. When did we get to a place where the majority of people think that complete surveillance of the domestic population is not only acceptable, but acceptable without any public discussion, or even knowledge of it happening? 

And yet here we are, in an era where freedom is given away without social discourse of any kind (at least prior to Mr. Snowden's revelations) and we live with the understanding that this is all necessary, that they are taking care of us and that we should just trust them on this one.  Did 9/11 really do that much of a number on us, to the extent that we are willing to live in this world we now find ourselves? And if it doesn't seem so terrible from your perspective, whatever that may be, can you not see where this is all going? When they eliminate our freedom to communicate and create in a free and open society, when they stifle our desire and in fact our very ability to be self-determining beings, then what are we left with? Are we destined to just be zombie consumers to serve the elite? Are we, in effect, losing our humanity just because they want and need to maintain the status quo? The reality of their surveillance is mind-boggling in its scale. Their stated goal is to glean all data and communication from in the Internet and other sources, be it domestic or international. If this is the reality of maintaining security in our society, then I posit that something has gone terribly wrong and we've reached the time where we need to address the root causes. William Binney, one of the highest ranking NSA whistleblowers, has gone so far as to say that "the ultimate goal of the NSA is total population control". This whole thing smacks of Orwell, but so much worse. Einstein famously said:

It Has Become Appallingly Obvious That Our Technology Has Exceeded Our Humanity

It has become appallingly obvious. We have tacitly accepted that we now live in a world that demands that we be under complete and utter surveillance, for our own good. Not only is this dangerous to our freedom and future ability to organize and protest, it is a fundamental shift in our acceptance of a totalitarian state and it implies that ultimate government control is not only necessary, but good. We need to take back our freedom and privacy, and to make a united stand against this form of tyranny. We need to take back the Internet now.


In Part II of this article, we will delve into actions and techniques we can employ to protect and defend our privacy and freedom.

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