Over the weekend, ex-CIA employee Ed Snowden revealed himself as the whistleblower responsible for exposing the NSA’s PRISM spying program in an exclusive interview with The Guardian. Snowden, who is currently employed at defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, claims to have been working at the NSA for the last four years as an employee of various outside contractors.
If you haven’t yet seen Snowden’s interview with The Guardian’s Glenn Greenwald, it’s worth spending a few minutes doing so to get an idea of his motivations:
Now there’s one crucial revelation from the interview that stands out:
“I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you, or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President if I had a personal email.”
Admittedly Snowden is a little unclear in his comments here, because he refers to wiretapping – which is generally taken to mean listening in on voice communications – when in actual fact he probably means that he can gain access to anyone’s emails.
Regardless, this appears to be somewhat contrary to the NSA’s inference that PRISM is only being used to capture data from non-US citizens. But if this untrustworthy (for that’s what he proved himself to be by becoming a whistleblower) 29-year old computer nerd really did have the ability to access anyone’s email, then its clear that the NSA is at best being incredibly careless about what kind of data its gathering. Moreover, the very fact that Snowden decided to leak the original PowerPoint detailing PRISM shows us that the NSA simply cannot be trusted to look after our data anyway. If Snowden could see anyone’s emails and communications, how many other ‘nobodies’ in the NSA have been snooping into our lives?
The second comment from Snowden that stands out is his description of why people should care about this, even if they insist they’ve “got nothing to hide”:
“Because even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently by orders of magnitude to where it’s getting to the point where you don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call. And then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made. Every friend you’ve ever discussed something with. And attack you on that basis, to derive suspicion from an innocent life, and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.”
In other words, what Snowden is saying that the NSA’s data gathering operation is just plain wrong, and even if you haven’t done anything wrong yourself, that doesn’t mean that your data could one day be ‘misconstrued’ and used to hurt you. Whilst SiliconANGLE founder John Furrier points out that PRISM is not a new issue – we’ve known all along that privacy is basically just a fallacy – it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about it. President Obama stated that “no one is listening to your phone calls”, and in most cases he’s probably right – but the fact that someone – in fact, hundreds of people – could do if they wanted is reason enough to be outraged.
Snowden’s interview is well worth watching, as he has quite a lot to say on the government’s destruction of our privacy rights. Unlike the unfortunate Bradley Manning, who was caught the moment he passed stolen files onto WikiLeaks, Snowden appears to have planned his moves very carefully – choosing a non-US newspaper and escaping to Hong Kong first – which means he has a rare chance to speak before the inevitable happens and someone catches up with him.