The Internet, Snowden And Big Brother

By Sunil Kumar

No one can deny the all-pervasive influence of the internet on our lives. From the enlightened to people who have always been the unpalatable variety(to put it mildly); it’s actually everywhere; social media, big data; the song of an interlocked existence.

Image representing Edward Snowden as depicted ...

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Coming to the main theme of this post; Edward Snowden and the debate over internet privacy. His exposure of the role of the NSA in widespread snooping started a widespread discussion that was splashed in newspapers everywhere. As an American contractor working in Hawaii; and Japan; Snowden had access to sensitive and classified information; that he later presented to the world.

Official portrait of NSA director Keith B. Ale...

Visit Official portrait of NSA director Keith B. Alexander. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In an age of the anti-establishment; the man has achieved notoriety and fame quickly; quite like Assange or Bradley Manning. In an interview; Snowden raised some valid points on internet privacy; that he believed the American federal establishment with its all-pervasive reach and influence on major tech companies(largely Yank) sought to undermine.

Currently in Moscow protected by the Russian state setup; Snowden has revealed details about the huge sophisticated programs run by the NSA, Britain’s GCHQ, five eyes(all the Western English-speaking countries); that raise the spectre of a technological Orwellian big brother. Apart from surveillance on 122 world leaders; the NSA can intercept at will; and is largely focused on metadata; if we are to believe media reports.

With some interestingly coined names such as PRISM, Boundless Informant, XKeyscore, MUSCULAR, Bull Run, Tempora, Squeaky Dolphin, the NSA at Fort Meade, Maryland and other partner agencies apparently collect data points and monitor nearly every aspect of communication on the web; including telecommunication networks and social media. As a counter; Ledgett of the U.S NSA replied that all of this was necessary to keep the world’s democracies apprised of threats, and nefarious elements who have been gaining ground all over the world recently.

But; with such a huge amount of data in tech company hands; haven’t we already reached an age of less individual privacy? No; replied the NSA guy again; who said private citizens with no link to the other side of life would not be troubled in any way. Asked about giving amnesty to Snowden and the views of his boss Keith Alexander; the NSA person again said that Snowden should have approached the US government instead of going public with every snippet of information.

The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency....

Visit The seal of the U.S. National Security Agency. The first use was in September 1966, replacing an older seal which was used briefly. For more information, see here and here. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The idea of an eagle(official US symbol) with headphones eavesdropping everywhere was a caricature; he noted and added that Snowden had compromised NSA’s ability to deal with terrorism and insights into their patterns. For us in the public domain; the existence of such a huge program came as a revelation; if not a surprise; with such stuff being speculated upon in numerous movies etc.

According to the NSA guy; arcs of instability(interesting soundbite) had popped up all over the world; especially in the Horn of Africa; Syria and the Middle East and the Af-Pak region where counter-terrorism was increasingly important given the reality of the threat and Western passport holders(and converts) being involved. The cyber-threat was proliferating in new and unique ways; and the NSA could have been hampered by Snowden’s tell all saga.

A model of the GCHQ headquarters in Cheltenham

Visit A model of the GCHQ headquarters in Cheltenham (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The use of drones(something the Indian Government also is planning to do if we are to believe some reports) poses a new and unique invasion into the lives of others; especially if they are in no way linked to the other side of the world. Apart from numerous other challenges;India’s government could be better helped with some degree of local involvement; like Brazil; which was quite vocal in its condemnation of these programs. The present-day Internet still remains mostly controlled by the US; and needs more democratization with a little more global participation.

Until then; Obama(and US policy); the current power games(US, Russia etc) and technological change remain an ongoing phenomenon. Wait and watch!


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