Edward Snowden: The World Says No to Surveillance
By Edward J. Snowden
June 06, 2015 "Information
Clearing House" - "NYT"
- MOSCOW — TWO years ago today, three journalists
and I worked nervously in a Hong Kong hotel room, waiting to see how the world
would react to the revelation that the National Security Agency had been making
records of nearly every phone call in the United States. In the days that
followed, those journalists and others published documents revealing that
democratic governments had been monitoring the private activities of ordinary
citizens who had done nothing wrong.
Within days, the United States government responded by bringing
charges against me under World War I-era espionage laws. The journalists were
advised by lawyers that they risked arrest or subpoena if they returned to the
United States. Politicians raced to condemn our efforts as un-American, even
Privately, there were moments when I worried that we might have
put our privileged lives at risk for nothing — that the public would react with
indifference, or practiced cynicism, to the revelations.
Never have I been so grateful to have been so wrong.
Two years on, the difference is profound. In a single month, the
N.S.A.’s invasive call-tracking program was declared unlawful by the courts and
disowned by Congress. After a White House-appointed oversight board
investigation found that this program had not stopped a single terrorist attack,
even the president who once defended its propriety and criticized its disclosure
has now ordered it terminated.
This is the power of an informed public.
Ending the mass surveillance of private phone calls under the
Patriot Act is a historic victory for the rights of every citizen, but it is
only the latest product of a change in global awareness. Since 2013,
institutions across Europe have ruled similar laws and operations illegal and
imposed new restrictions on future activities. The United Nations declared mass
surveillance an unambiguous violation of human rights. In Latin America, the
efforts of citizens in Brazil led to the Marco Civil, an Internet Bill of
Rights. Recognizing the critical role of informed citizens in correcting the
excesses of government, the Council of Europe called for new laws to protect
Beyond the frontiers of law, progress has come even more quickly.
Technologists have worked tirelessly to re-engineer the security of the devices
that surround us, along with the language of the Internet itself. Secret flaws
in critical infrastructure that had been exploited by governments to facilitate
mass surveillance have been detected and corrected. Basic technical safeguards
such as encryption — once considered esoteric and unnecessary — are now enabled
by default in the products of pioneering companies like Apple, ensuring that
even if your phone is stolen, your private life remains private. Such structural
technological changes can ensure access to basic privacies beyond borders,
insulating ordinary citizens from the arbitrary passage of anti-privacy laws,
such as those now descending upon Russia.
Though we have come a long way, the right to privacy — the
foundation of the freedoms enshrined in the United States Bill of Rights —
remains under threat. Some of the world’s most popular online services have been
enlisted as partners in the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs, and technology
companies are being pressured by governments around the world to work against
their customers rather than for them. Billions of cellphone location records are
still being intercepted without regard for the guilt or innocence of those
affected. We have learned that our government intentionally weakens the
fundamental security of the Internet with “back doors” that transform private
lives into open books. Metadata revealing the personal associations and
interests of ordinary Internet users is still being intercepted and monitored on
a scale unprecedented in history: As you read this online, the United States
government makes a note.
Spymasters in Australia, Canada and France have exploited recent
tragedies to seek intrusive new powers despite evidence such programs would not
have prevented attacks. Prime Minister David Cameron of Britain recently mused,
“Do we want to allow a means of communication between people which we cannot
read?” He soon found his answer, proclaiming that “for too long, we have been a
passively tolerant society, saying to our citizens: As long as you obey the law,
we will leave you alone.”
At the turning of the millennium, few imagined that citizens of
developed democracies would soon be required to defend the concept of an open
society against their own leaders.
Yet the balance of power is beginning to shift. We are witnessing
the emergence of a post-terror generation, one that rejects a worldview defined
by a singular tragedy. For the first time since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001,
we see the outline of a politics that turns away from reaction and fear in favor
of resilience and reason. With each court victory, with every change in the law,
we demonstrate facts are more convincing than fear. As a society, we rediscover
that the value of a right is not in what it hides, but in what it protects.
Edward J. Snowden, a former Central Intelligence Agency
officer and National Security Agency contractor, is a director of the
Freedom of the Press Foundation.