Snow­den’s leaks sent out global shock­waves

Dis­clo­sures put US on de­fen­sive about ex­tent of its eaves­drop­ping

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - WORLD - By AGENCE FRANCEPRESSE in Wash­ing­ton

An avalanche of in­tel­li­gence leaks from for­mer CIA con­trac­tor Ed­ward Snow­den sent shock­waves around the world in 2013, lift­ing the lid on a vast global spy­ing net­work and rais­ing fears of a sur­veil­lance state.

As the year draws to a close, the 30- year- old Snow­den re­mains ex­iled in Rus­sia, his fi­nal port of call fol­low­ing a world­wide game of cat-and-mouse that ap­peared to come straight from the pages of a spy novel.

A traitor to some, a heroic whistle­blower to oth­ers, Snow­den’s dis­clo­sures have shed light on in­tel­li­gence-gath­er­ing meth­ods which shocked many through their sheer scale.

Tens of thou­sands of doc­u­ments leaked by Snow­den to The Guardian news­pa­per and other me­dia out­lets have de­tailed the na­ture of the Na­tional Se­cu­rity Agency’s hith­erto shad­owy ac­tiv­i­ties.

The fugi­tive Snow­den, Time magazine’s run­ner-up be­hind Pope Francis for its per­son of the year, told the magazine he hoped the leaks would lead to greater trans­parency on the part of gov­ern­ments.

“What we re­coil most strongly against is not that such sur­veil­lance can the­o­ret­i­cally oc­cur, but that it was done without a ma­jor­ity of so­ci­ety even be­ing aware it was pos­si­ble,” he said via e-mail in a rare in­ter­view.

Snow­den’s rev­e­la­tions showed it clear that meta­data and in­for­ma­tion from mil­lions of e-mails and phone calls — in­ci­den­tally, some of it about US cit­i­zens — has been sys­tem­at­i­cally raked in by the NSA.

Civil rights groups de­cried the NSA’s ac­tiv­i­ties as the ac­tions of a Big Brother-like govern­ment, tram­pling on the rights of in­di­vid­u­als with lit­tle over­sight.

The reper­cus­sions have been felt far and wide. US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama in Au­gust promised re­forms to im­prove “trans­parency” while at the same time stat­ing that many of the NSA pro­grams were a ne­ces­sity.

Wash­ing­ton has also had to soothe the anger of its al­lies, par­tic­u­larly af­ter rev­e­la­tions that the NSA had tar­geted Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Angela Merkel’s phone.

Yet ac­cord­ing to some an­a­lysts, the long- term con­se­quences of the Snow­den rev­e­la­tions re­main to be seen.

James Lewis, an ex­pert in tech­nol­ogy and pub­lic pol­icy at the Cen­ter for Strate­gic and In­ter­na­tional Stud­ies in Wash­ing­ton, ques­tioned whether there would be a fun­da­men­tal change in the prac­tices of the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity.

“You’re not go­ing to see ma­jor changes,” said Lewis, es­ti­mat­ing that op­po­nents of the pro­grams re­mained a “noisy mi­nor­ity” of around 20-25 per­cent of vot­ers.

“I think the ma­jor­ity of the Amer­i­can peo­ple would rather see pro­grams that are more trans­par­ent and have greater over­sight in ex­change for smaller risk of at­tack,” he said.

Lewis be­lieves the prob­lem is that “peo­ple have never ap­pre­ci­ated the dif­fer­ence be­tween col­lect and read”.

“No­body can sit down and read 70 mil­lion e-mails but you could get ma­chines to iden­tify those with links to ter­ror­ism or of the 58,000 doc­u­ments pro­vided by Snow­den have been dis­closed,

ac­cord­ing to an of­fi­cial from The Guardian pro­lif­er­a­tion,” he said.

One of the pro­grams set up un­der the 2001 Pa­triot Act al­lows for the col­lec­tion from US phone com­pa­nies of meta­data, such as num­bers called and the time and du­ra­tion of calls.

The gath­er­ing of such data from or­di­nary US cit­i­zen sparked out­rage in the US and led Congress to try to rein in the NSA.

Gor­don Adams, an ex­pert on de­fense and na­tional se­cu­rity at Amer­i­can Univer­sity, says the NSA was given un­prece­dented free­dom fol­low­ing the Sept 11, 2001 at­tacks.

“In a cli­mate of fear we ba­si­cally took the reins off of ac­count­abil­ity for the in­tel­li­gence com­mu­nity,” Adams said.

MAN­DEL NGAN / AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Demon­stra­tors hold plac­ards sup­port­ing for­mer US in­tel­li­gence an­a­lyst Ed­ward Snow­den dur­ing a protest against govern­ment sur­veil­lance in Wash­ing­ton on Oct 26.

LUKE MACGRE­GOR / REUTERS

Guardian ed­i­tor Alan Rus­bridger car­ries a copy of the book Spy Catcher as he faces MPs’ ques­tions over the pub­li­ca­tion of files from Ed­ward Snow­den in Lon­don on Dec 3.

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