Internet privacy and security course RU
I realised that I was part of something that was doing far more harm than good.Edward Snowden
Total surveillance: good or evil?

Total surveillance: good or evil?

On June 23rd, 2013 a plane that carried the former contractor for the U.S. National Security Agency landed in Moscow's Sheremetyevo airport, the man who came to international attention after he revealed classified NSA documents that expose total surveillance of people all over the world, the control and attempts to control all kinds of communication tools and mostly focus on extensive Internet surveillance. 

The information revealed by Snowden gave rise to a torrent of debate across the world and dealt a heavy blow on NSA’s and U.S. reputation. The Internet community was basically divided into “BEFORE” and “AFTER”.

What led Edward Snowden to take the path of revealing the truth to the world and betrayal of his country’s national interests? After all, he wanted to serve in the U.S. army, fight in the Iraq war because, in his own words, he felt like he had an obligation to help free people from oppression. Then he found employment at an NSA’s contractor where Snowden had access to classified information. So what made this person go down in history as the world’s most consequential whistleblower?

Most likely, Snowden became disillusioned about NSA’s goals and methods. During his employment at NSA, Snowden realized that American politicians’ and NSA programs’ flowery words hid the goal of controlling everyone and everything to achieve U.S. political and military rule over the entire world. This domination is supposed to benefit American corporations, their bottom lines and adversely affects the rest of the world.  

To achieve these goals, they use any, even dirty and underhanded measures. Edward Snowden claimed how in 2007 CIA operatives attempted to recruit a Swiss banker to obtain sensitive banking information. After getting the banker drunk, the operatives encouraged him to drive home in his car. And when the banker got arrested for drunk driving, the agents offered to bail him out befriending him, and a bond was formed leading to a successful recruitment. Apart from the ethical issues arising from this incident, NSA agents risked pedestrians’ life who might have become victims of drunk driving. There can be no justification for such actions.

Edward Snowden’s leaks revealed NSA’s total surveillance of more than a billion people all over the world. If you discount the citizens of the poorest countries without connection, infants, people with disabilities and retired citizens who don’t have access to the Internet, it turns out that NSA is watching every second of us: either me or you. You should decide for yourself whether it’s good or bad. I personally don’t find NSA surveillance that palatable.

By the way, you must’ve heard about PRISM project. PRISM was designed by NSA to read your letters, listen to your voice messages, access your correspondence on social networks and IM services, your videos, photos and emails.

I hate to upset you even more, but let me reveal several partners of this spy program, you might have heard about these companies as well… Microsoft (Hotmail), Google (Google Mail), Yahoo!, Facebook, YouTube, Skype и Apple.  This is not the complete list of cooperative companies, but it is long enough to show the extent of the problem.

 There is a belief that special services don’t collect users’ personal information, that they just don’t have any vested interest in it, that its analysis takes a lot of time while its value is minimal. Well, Snowden’s leaks revealed that U.S. NSA didn’t just collect but also passed private information to the special services of other countries. For instance, the US special services shared the information about Americans citizens who came from Palestine and Arab countries, who have relatives in the Middle East, including the information about their sexual orientation, family and health issues. This data wasn’t gathered by web crawlers, it was collected manually by phone tapping and often subsequently used to coerce a person into cooperation with the special services. 

 Surely, the representatives of special services will largely deny the existence of the total surveillance secret program as long as they can. New Zealand's former Prime Minister John Key denied any abuse of New Zealanders’ communications by Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB). At the same time Edward Snowden revealed that he "routinely came cross the communications of New Zealanders" while working with the US NSA secret mass surveillance tool and called all the “denials” outright lying.

 Though this chapter brings out some unpleasant news, there’s definitely something you can do: using the tips and recommendations in this course will help you stand up to PRISM and other analogous tools developed by special agencies as well as to any other people interested in accessing your personal information. Now PRISM is already history but used as a metonym for similar programs.

 On account of impartiality… Many threats to the society are impossible to eliminate without total control. We all want to live in a safe and stable society, we are interested in the total victory of law enforcement over terrorism, organized crime, the majority of citizens do not wish revolutions and social unrest. Total surveillance and control are capable of destroying corruption and shadow economy which in turn would help solve a host of problems and make our life comfortable and safer.

 Many people see special services’ surveillance as an inherently bad thing, in my mind – this is not so. There is no absolute good or evil, black and white, there are only points of view and convictions, and I believe that the right to be anonymous and free from control and surveillance is more important than the benefits of total control. If you share this viewpoint, this course is intended for you, if you don’t – this is your choice, and I fully respect it.

 NSA, FSB and other special services, caught a lot of criminals, arrested or eliminated extremely dangerous terrorists, cut channels for legalization of revenue obtained illicitly. I am thankful to special services for their dedication and professionalism that make my life and those of my family members safe. Still, I am unwilling to sacrifice my right to privacy for it.


Interview widget: Do you approve total surveillance for the sake of safety?

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