Is Snowden a Hero? He May Be in Germany.
It is always interesting to read a view contrary to one you hold, particularly when it is well articulated, albeit naive.
Von Evgeny Morozov, a reporter for Germany’s Frankfurter Allgemeine, concludes in an article about Edward Snowden and the U.S. National Security Agency that, “Even the best laws will not lead to a safer internet. We need a sharper picture of the information apocalypse that awaits us in a world where personal data is traded to avert the catastrophy.” In a lengthy discourse, Mr. Morozov makes the following salient points:
1. America and I’m a dataholic. He postures that the U.S. covers its addiction to Big Data under the guise of security and preventing another 9/11. He cites what he sees as the hypocrisy of such a position the Boston Marathon bombing that, under his analysis, was not prevented by all of the spying undertaken by the NSA. As an American who works in New York City, watched the Twin Towers fall and lost friends and colleagues, I find the analogy insulting and disrespectful to those who died in both tragedies. It is all too easy to condemn a program because it is not perfect. His question is misguided. I’d prefer to ask what has been prevented as a result of the steps the U.S. has taken since 9/11. We’ll never know and don’t need to know. What we do know is we’ve been relatively free of terrorism since.
2. In his words, “[M]any Europeans are finally grasping, to their great dismay, that the word cloud in cloud computing is just a euphemism for some dark bunker in Idaho or Utah.” It’s an interesting observation that regrettably ignores the growing market for cloud computing services in Europe, Asia, and elsewhere in the world. Certainly, while the U.S. may still dominate the space, that dominance is clearly waning.
3. Mr. Morozov appears to support Iran’s recent launch of its own email system as an act of “information sovereignty.” Forgive me for being a cynic, but the day is far away when I’ll believe Iran’s move is motivated by a sense of sovereignty as opposed to the ability to monitor and suppress free speech among its population.
4. Mr. Morozov also takes issue with the use of the private sector in outsourcing the data collection operation, believing it is corrupt. As he puts it, “…the public-private partnership model on which much of American infrastructure operates these days… is no exception. Decentralization is liberating only if there’s no powerful actor that can rip off the benefits after the network has been put in place. If such an actor exists – like NSA in this case – decentralization is a mere shibboleth. Those in power get more of what they want quicker – and pay less for the privilege.” Interesting. Beyond outlawing the collection of any data, one has to assume Mr. Morozov would prefer that government bureaucracy control the process. Believing the government is more efficient and economical performing just about any task is sheer folly. Witness the unbelievably cumbersome bureaucracy in the European Union where efforts are made to centralize as much as possible in a government bureau or Directorate. How’s that working?
5. Citing Snowden’s sojourn to Russia as an example of how there is no virtual freedom on the Internet as criticism of the distinction some have made of the digital and terrestrial worlds, he describes Snowden as, “…a man with a noble mission and awful trip-planning skills.” While I do not share his sympathy for Mr. Snowden, I do agree with his observation that there is not distinction between digital or terrestrial freedom. That’s right. There are laws that each sovereign nation is free to pass in its governance of its population. Depending upon the regime in power, these laws may celebrate freedom or suppress it. But whether one acts “on the ground” or in “cyberspace”, the laws of his or her nation apply. Mr. Snowden chose to break those laws perhaps under the misguided perception that he was immune under the umbrella of digital freedom coined by Mr. Morozov. Guess he got that one wrong.
6. In what can only be described as throwing the baby out with the bathwater, Mr. Morozov laments that a single network that allows surveillance like that done by the NSA “has disastrous implications for anyone living in dictatorships” because it will give despots a greater ability to spy on their citizens and exact punishment for efforts to free themselves from suppression. Unbelievable. While his fear may be true, is the misuse of a network by bad people reason to condemn its overwhelming proper use by the majority of democratic and legitimate governments. There is no question the Internet has spawned a dark side that is scary and dangerous. And everyone should fight against those who would use it for such purposes. But adopting rules and restrictions controlling the few will undoubtedly damage the many. That is not a solution.
7. This all drives Mr. Morozov to blame the U.S. for the rise in totalitarian governments like Russia, China, and Iran wresting control of the Internet and free communications from their citizens. He cites American hypocrisy and dataholic addiction as the justification being used by regimes bent on suppressing their citizens to close the Internet and destroy its freedom. Anyone who believes that Russia, China, or Iran needs any excuse to attack the current governance and structure of the Internet are in cyber fantasy land. Just witness their backing of the ITU to replace ICANN. As problematic as ICANN may be, the alternative is, as previously reported, a disaster. While the PRISM revelation may have added fodder to the arguments propounded by Russia, China and Iran, it is sophistry to think it tilted any balance towards their aim to control their people.
8. In what Mr. Morozov admits is a bit of a stretch, he laments that as more and more devices become “smart” and data streams more robust, our privacy becomes an illusion. No laws can protect us as terrestrial oversight is out smarted by technology. On that point, I think he’s right. It’s not a stretch. It’s coming. He also suggests (sort of) that technology will also respond to consumer concerns with better tools to control private data. I agree with that as well. But most assuredly, there will be many bumps in the road to an acceptable balance. Meanwhile, we live in a very dangerous world. For me, that requires surveillance with oversight and regrettably some loss of privacy. That’s simply a consequence of a digital world.
I encourage you to read Mr. Morozov’s article. It is very well written and presents his views in a cogent, logical, and compelling fashion. I just think he’s wrong.
How about you?
We Expert Doug Wood