While it’s been all the rage to rail on the oppressive U.S. and U.K. governments and their oppressive NSA and GCHQ Internet surveillance campaigns, there’s a bit of reality that’s just aching to be said: the U.S. and U.K. governments are really not all that oppressive.
Don’t get me wrong, though, domestic (emphasis on domestic) surveillance should be resisted, if not dismantled, regardless if it’s only “metadata” that these three-letter agencies scoop.
Throughout the Edward Snowden saga, the prevailing line of rhetoric is that the U.S. and U.K. government somehow suppresses free speech and press freedom — such as when David Miranda, journalist Glenn Greenwald’s partner, did his best bungling foreign spy impression by trying to sneak through a Heathrow airport with files containing the names of covert agents.
In the eyes (and cries) of many witnesses though, that was simply suppression of “journalism.”
The reality is that while London and Washington have many failings, onto which we should heap much criticism, oppression and media suppression really aren’t one of them.
Not nearly as oppressive as, say, Brazil’s government.
Brazil has a group of police and demolition workers who shows up to citizens’ doors in Rio and literally tells them, “you have to move because we’re demolishing your home today.”
These “slum dwellers” probably don’t rub elbows with the likes of Greenwald, though, the journalist who brought us the global tales of espionage from fugitive analyst Edward Snowden.
The results of said tales have been pretty staggering: not only has the debate raged around NSA surveillance, but it’s led certain countries to try and build their own independent Internets.
When a BBC reporter asked if an oppressive regime standing up its own independent Internet could lead to more surveillance and oppression over innocent citizens, Greenwald said, “There is a temptation on the part of every power faction to try and exploit the Internet to erode privacy and to increase their own surveillance. And I think that a lot of vigilance is going to have to be devoted to these alternatives as well and make sure that they don’t end up being as bad just in different ways.”
In specific, he was talking about Brazil’s new push to give the government more control over their domestic Internet traffic, and the “possibility” that Brazil would use it to keep journalists/citizens in check.
In general, Brazil isn’t the nicest place for journalists who talk about government corruption. Or for journalists who want to protest the vast income gap pushed to a breaking point by funds for the Olympics.
Journalists in China (and regular people for that matter) don’t fare much better. China has one of the most oppressive censorship and surveillance apparatuses on the planet — giving almost real-time results to any type of anti-government speech floating around the net.
Let’s not forget that sometimes those results literally mean getting dragged off the street and thrown in jail.
On the other end of the scale, China has been reaching into the pockets of U.S. corporations (both defence and non-defence related) for at least the last 10 years. (Thusly, one could also say they’re reaching into the pockets of regular, hard working Americans. Certainly, that’s as invasive as anything the NSA is guilty of doing.)
It’s without doubt that Edward Snowden knew of China’s capabilities when he sat in Hong Kong and said of surveillance practices, “I really want the focus to be on these documents and the debate which I hope this will trigger among citizens around the globe about what kind of world we want to live in.”
Snowden said he carefully reviewed the documents before taking them, to make sure they were the most relevant.
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things,” he concluded.
Snowden, consequently, now lives in Moscow.
Moscow has stated pretty openly that it plans to scoop the communications of every phone in Sochi. The fate of gays in Moscow is less than enviable. Moscow’s response to journalists who dare not goose step is either gangland style hits, or jail.
Russian prison probably isn’t too fun.
Snowden — whose every public exertion is now presided over, if not carefully planned, by the Russian FSB — certainly knows what type of invasive intelligence techniques Beijing and Moscow like to use.
This is not, by any means, an argument that because Moscow and Beijing monitor and jail dissidents, Snowden shouldn’t be exposing Washington’s programs.
Kurt Eichenwald of Newsweek may have the clearest explanation:
Some security industry and former intelligence officials say they originally believed Snowden’s apparent outrage at espionage by governments might lead him to expose activities by the Chinese, who use their hacking skills not only for economic competition but to track and damage dissidents overseas and monitor their citizens.
There was good reason to believe Snowden had plenty of details about Beijing’s activities – he has publicly stated that as an NSA contractor he targeted Chinese operations and taught a course on Chinese cyber counterintelligence. And while he says he turned over his computerized files of NSA documents to journalists in Hong Kong, he boasts that he is so familiar with Chinese hacking techniques that there is no chance the government there can gain access to his classified material.
But outside of American intelligence operations conducted there, Snowden has revealed nothing about surveillance and hacking in China, nor about the techniques he asserts he knows so well.
Kevin Ghosztola of Firedoglake makes the dubious claim that “Snowden has not exposed anything on Chinese surveillance because, if he did, he would most certainly be exposing what the NSA has learned about Chinese surveillance. Wouldn’t that make him even more of a traitor to people like Eichenwald?”
Well, at risk of speaking for Eichenwald: no, it wouldn’t.
The exposure of Chinese surveillance by the company Mandiant should be proof enough that any exposure of Beijing and Moscow’s espionage methods would be welcomed with open arms, as presumably would the exposure of Russia and China’s monitoring of foreign diplomats.
Ghosztola’s retort to Eichenwald doesn’t just blindly defend Snowden, it highlights the reality that two different camps have risen since Snowden began his disclosures.
One camp asserts that Snowden is a hapless traitor, and the other that he is on a higher moral road, beyond reproach.
I would assert that his disclosures about government surveillance on citizens have merit and that his disclosures about governments spying on other countries reveals routine, not oppressive, behaviour.
So I guess the final question for Snowden would be: are you against governments invading the privacy of the global community, or are you solely against Washington’s spy agencies?
Flatly: You’re either for Internet privacy, or you’re simply against the American government.
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