Edward Snowden

Edward Snowden's Autobiography Makes a Plea for the Fourth Amendment, the Right to Privacy, and Encryption

America's most famous whistleblower calls for restricting the power of government.

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Edward Snowden has a message to the tech developers who have digitized so much of our lives: If the United States and other world governments are not willing to recognize our right to privacy, then the private sector is going to have to do the work.

The whistleblower's new autobiography, Permanent Record, details how he discovered and exposed Washington's mass surveillance of American citizens. Happily, he does this in approachable prose that doesn't require readers to have served time in an IT department to understand it.

The book recounts Snowden's fears that the United States is following in the footsteps of China's surveillance of its citizenry, his discovery that these worries were true when he stumbled across a classified report while working for the National Security Agency (NSA), and his decision to sneak documentation of the NSA's techniques to journalists Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. I won't belabor that story—it's pretty much a matter of public record now, and it's not the draw of the book. The selling point of Permanent Record is its insight into why Snowden did what he did and how he feels about the state of the world today.

Snowden's decision to become a whistleblower sprang from his strong belief that the Constitution is supposed to restrain the government's power over the public. He was angry when he discovered the documents describing just how extensive the NSA's post-9/11 domestic surveillance program STELLARWIND was. That operation had been exposed in 2004 by whistleblower Thomas Tamm, yet it quietly continued and expanded.

In Permanent Record, Snowden argues that the mass collection of Americans' data without individualized warrants violates our Fourth Amendment rights. The intelligence system that had been sold as a way to fight terrorism was in fact being turned against us all. "After a decade of mass surveillance," he writes, "the technology had proved itself to be a potent weapon less against terror and more against liberty itself. By continuing these programs, by continuing these lies, American was protecting little, winning nothing, and losing much—until there would be few distinctions left between those post-9/11 polarities of 'Us' and 'Them.'"

We'd been assured that our private data was being carefully, thoughtfully handled—that serious oversight and meaningful protections were in place. But that's not what Snowden found. Pretty much anybody could become a target:

The grounds for suspicion were often poorly documented, if they were documented at all, and the connections could be incredibly tenuous—"believed to be potentially associated with" and then the name of some international organization that could be anything from a telecommunications standards body to UNICEF to something you might actually agree is menacing.

Snowden describes the sometimes overly friendly relationship between tech companies and the government, which at times had the former giving the latter access to our info without our knowledge. But he also sees the positive in the pushes by companies like Apple and Google to bring consumers better encryption. "Encryption," he writes, "is the single best hope for fighting surveillance of any kind. If all our data, including our communications, were enciphered in this fashion, from end to end…then no government—no entity conceivable under our current knowledge of physics, for that matter—would be able to understand them."

This makes it all the more important to resist officials' efforts to hobble encryption with "back doors" that allow police to access your private data without your permission. Politicians, police chiefs, and leaders of the FBI insist that criminals are using encryption to "go dark," making it harder for police to solve crimes and for the feds to track down terror threats. But this is the same way they sold these surveillance powers, and then it turned out they were abusing the system. The ability to secretly bypass encryption would simply allow new avenues of warrantless surveillance of American citizens.

Given the national security state's lack of respect for the Fourth Amendment—and given how weak-willed politicians have been about standing up to those agencies—Snowden thinks it's up to independent, private, privacy-minded tech developers to take the lead in protecting our privacy:

In a perfect world, which is to say a world that doesn't exist, just laws would make these tools obsolete. But in the only world we have, they have never been more necessary. A change in the law is infinitely more difficult to achieve than a change in a technological standard, and as long a legal innovation lags behind technological innovation institutions will seek to abuse that disparity in the furtherance of their interests. It falls to independent, open-source hardware and software developers to close that gap by providing the vital civil liberties protections that the law may be unable, or unwilling, to guarantee.

Meanwhile, Australia is now trying to mandate encryption back doors, with repercussions that go far beyond Australia. And the U.S. government is trying to prevent Snowden from earning money off his own book. Those vital civil liberties protections could use all the help they can get.

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  1. Snowden makes good points. However, the fact that he sought refuge in the den of the KGB is awfully fishy.

    1. Exactly.

      #SnowdenRussia
      #LibertariansForGettingToughWithRussia

    2. He didn’t seek refuge in Russia. The USA cancelled his passport while he waiting to get on a plane in Moscow. https://youtu.be/PArFP7ZJrtg (explanation starts at the 12:00 minute mark)

    3. Given that most countries would either would not take him in when he fled, or would ultimately sell him out to the US for cash the way Ecuador did Assange, he literally only had 2 choices if he wanted to avoid deportation.
      Authoritarians like to restrict the options, then act outraged when someone avails themselves of the only options left to them.

      1. If he believed in his cause as he claims, he should take the repercussions as well. Being a martyr is always stronger than being a coward.

        Yes he exposed a program. But he had legal ways to do so. He would have had the backing of quite a few senators such as Paul if he so chose. But he had visions of fame and grandeur. Let’s not pretend he was selfless in his actions.

        1. Utter nonsense. Why should he suffer unjust punishment for exposing government crimes? It might be different if he had any chance of a fair trial, but he doesn’t. If the US government ever gets their hands on him, they’ll not only lock him up, they’ll make sure he has no chance to speak out, all in the name of holy security. Exactly what purpose would be served by that?

          And no, he didn’t have legal ways to do this. Look at others who have tried.

          1. It sucks but that is how you become a martyr.

            Even the Founding Fathers knew that if the British caught them, they would be hanged as traitors to the Crown.

            You have to fight the fight from where you are or you are seen as running scared.

            1. So when are YOU gonna become a martyr, tough guy?

            2. So you’re arguing that the Founding Fathers should have immediately turned themselves in to the British authorities? Should they have paid their own way to London first or would turning themselves in to the local Tories have been sufficient?

              Yes, the Founders knew that they were committing treason and would be likely executed if caught. That’s why they deliberately did things to not get caught. Staging a successful armed revolt is one way to not get caught. Continuing to push for change from exile is another.

        2. Being a martyr is always stronger than being a coward.

          Says the keyboard commando who has never had to sacrifice anything. Snowden didn’t need to spend the rest of his life getting ass raped in federal prison to prove his machismo to some sniveling little bitch like you.

          But he had legal ways to do so.

          Report it to his supervisors who were literally the ones running the programs in question? He actually did. When it went nowhere he decided to blow the whistle.

        3. Should Anne Frank’s family have turned themselves in to the Gestapo rather than hide in an attic?

    4. “”Encryption,” he writes, “is the single best hope for fighting surveillance of any kind.”

      Encryption doesn’t protect meta-data, nor will it protect a device that has been compromised from the get go before any encryption is implemented. I can even be a ‘honey trap’ drawing attention to messages that would otherwise be ignored.

    5. He didn’t seek refuge in Russia. He got stuck there after the US rather stupidly revoked his passport while he was in transit. If the US had waited a few hours he would have been in a country they could have extradited him from.

  2. Do you want government to Do Something, or do you want government to protect criminals?

    1. should don’t go away mad just go away

  3. If there is anyone we can trust to protect us from the government it is surely a gigantic tech oligopoly whose entire business model is wholly dependent on the constant collection and warehousing of every scrap of personal data they can obtain and share with advertisers, and that literally writes the model legislation for its own regulation and hands it in to congress.

    What a fucking dupe.

    1. Did you not read the article?
      “Snowden thinks it’s up to independent, private, privacy-minded tech developers to take the lead in protecting our privacy…”

      Google/Apple/Derpbook doesn’t quite fit that bill now does it?

      Or from Snowden’s book:
      “It falls to independent, open-source hardware and software developers to close that gap by providing the vital civil liberties protections that the law may be unable, or unwilling, to guarantee.”

      Again… Google that ain’t.

      1. I admittedly haven’t read the book yet, but this line from the author of the article is what prompted that response:

        Snowden describes the sometimes overly friendly relationship between tech companies and the government, which at times had the former giving the latter access to our info without our knowledge. But he also sees the positive in the pushes by companies like Apple and Google to bring consumers better encryption.

        If Snowden thinks independent privacy-minded tech companies have a good chance of displacing the current oligopoly he’s delusional, and if he thinks open source hardware and software a panacea for spying he’s also delusional. “Tivoization” was happening 20 years ago let alone what’s going on now. 80% of the web is rendered on an open-source browser engine that pings back to Google even in its generic implemenation. Every major commercial spying agency is built on a OSS stack.

        1. Do you think there is a better way, then, or are we just fucked?

          I don’t know how good of a hope it is, but I think the best hope is more decentralized technology as Snowden suggests. I guess it’s up to consumers to decide whether they actually give a fuck about being spied on.

          1. Except we are already seeing corruption in things like block chain. See how groups are actively attacking the servers hosting groups like Gab to try to enforce a synchronized deletion.

          2. Do you think there is a better way, then, or are we just fucked?

            The latter, I think. p2p encrypted networking is consumer un-friendly by design. It isn’t as if the technology for this didn’t exist when these behemoths gained all their market share in the first place. The market made its choice between privacy and security and it’s reflected in the tech environment we now see.

  4. It does amuse me that a guy that exposes vast wrong doing and illegal actions by the U.S government had to seek refuge in a country like Russia. Of course it was just a thumb in the eye of the U.S. Then again, no ‘free’ country would have taken him in fear of the U.S. response. It’s time to clip the wings of the CIA, FBI, DEA, NSA, ect. I won’t hold my breath.

    1. I think the US took away his passport, so it’s sort of hard for him to get around much. Sadly, no one will clip the wings of the CIA, FBI, DEA, and NSA; Trump is probably the closest we will ever get. But we can rest safely knowing the CIA doesn’t know how to spy well (or people like double agent Aldrich Ames will rat out all of our Russian sources and they’ll be executed), the FBI doesn’t know how to do law enforcement (20+ years of botched DNA analysis in hundreds of capital murder cases), the DEA will never stop drugs (but will make a hell of a lot of drug lords rich beyond their wildest dreams), and the NSA can scoop up every email, phone call, and text message, but they couldn’t secure a rat in a cage.

      1. The USA cancelled his passport while he was waiting on his flight out of Moscow.
        https://youtu.be/PArFP7ZJrtg
        Explanation starts at the 12:00 minute mark.

  5. Of course the classic conservative response is “if you are not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to hide”. And, by reverse logic, if you are hiding anything, you must be doing something wrong. Encryption is thus a red flag, and justification for government intervention.

    1. “if you are not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to hide”.
      WORST
      ADVICE
      EVER

      As if no innocent person was ever convicted and sent to prison…or worse if Weld had his way.

    2. Which is why its use needs to be very widespread for it really to work.
      I doubt that will happen if it requires any significant effort on the part of users.

    3. Because if we have learned anything… the democrats have never used IC materials for their own political purposes.

    4. Which head IC chief lied to congress about collection again?

      1. And then told Congress to their face that he lied.

        That’s ballsy. Of course, Congress did nothing which tells you who is really wearing the pants in this country.

    5. So if I operate a business and process credit cards I’m hiding something if I encrypt my receipts? Banking information? What if I’m developing code I don’t want stolen?
      If I want to store 3TB of dick pics I’ve obtained on cloud storage with military -grade encryption I should be able to. I’m not doing anything wrong, but my massive collection of phallic imagery is my business and no one else’s.

    6. re: “if you are not doing anything wrong then you have nothing to hide”

      That lie has been passed around by just as many liberals as conservatives.

  6. Bush was right when he said they hate us for our freedom; get rid of the freedom and they’ll hate us less. I just worry that we’re not dismantling the Bill of Rights fast enough. It’s that pesky toxic individualism that resists being assimilated into the collective, builds walls and borders and distinctions between groups. How can we be so blind as to not see that true freedom lies in being forced to do what’s for the common good, as it frees us from the burden of having to think and to choose for ourselves? The caged bird is far freer than the soaring eagle as the caged bird is unburdened by the responsibility of making decisions. Let us celebrate the freedom of our chains, comrades!

    1. Is that the Antifa Manifesto? Could be.

  7. IMHO, Edward Snowden is an American patriot. He has exposed the extent to which our federal government violates our civil liberties every damned day.

    Let’s be blunt: The Executive Branch and Legislative branches were not protecting our civil liberties, and Mr. Snowden exposed that. Not a single thing he exposed was factually incorrect. The revelations were highly embarrassing to both branches, and they should be collectively ashamed at their behavior.

    I am more unhappy with our Judicial branch, quite honestly. They are our final guardians of individual liberty. They have uniquely failed in this task.

  8. I’m surprised Russia hasn’t found a use for him yet. Oh well, maybe his polonium nightcap is coming sooner rather than later.

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