Everything You Need to Know About Prism, Internet Freedom, and Edward Snowden (Updated)

This is Edward Snowden

The case of Edward Snowden has not only polarized the United States, but it has raised concerns from people all over the world. But it’s not just the US – the UK is now getting a lot of attention for creating a fake internet cafe just to steal passwords of foreign diplomats at the 2009 G20 summit in London. Some are even arguing that they have even more access than the American NSA (National Security Agency); but the NSA is understandably getting the most heat, especially from places outside of the US. I say “especially from places outside” because the mainstream US news is clearly on the side of the government. Indeed, it seems that the narrative within the  mainstream media is not about the message so much as the messenger. This post aggregates news programs outside the US to tell the real story of exactly what’s going on with Edward Snowden and the NSA.

What’s the Deal with Snowden?

I’m sure you’ll be watching a movie about this by the end of the decade; but until then, I want to catch you up on what we know about the Edward Snowden case. This summary from Wikipedia is nice and concise and his leaks:

Snowden revealed information about a variety of classified intelligence programs, including the interception of US and European telephone metadata and the PRISM and Tempora Internet surveillance programs.

Snowden said the leaks were an effort “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.”

Considering Obama is on what some have called a “crusade on whistleblowers,” obviously the US government was not happy about this. In fact, what’s clear from the actions of the prosecution of WikiLeaks whistleblower Bradley Manning is that committing a crime will not be punished, but reporting it will be.

But the case of Manning – who has been in prison for three years already – is quite different. Manning revealed information (including the infamous apache helicopter video) anonymously, whereas Edward Snowden made his revelations without any secrecy. However, he did it in Hong Kong; and since that very moment, Obama has been trying to get him back for immediate punishment and silencing.

Putting Americans in Danger?

The funny thing is that Americans are told all the time that places like Russia and China are not free countries like US is, but these are two places that Snowden has reportedly fled to, in order to stay a free man. John Cassidy from the New Yorker wrote this about Snowden’s case:

If he’d stayed [in America], he would almost certainly be in custody, with every prospect of staying in a cell until 2043 or later. The Obama Administration doesn’t want him to come home and contribute to the national-security-versus-liberty debate that the President says is necessary. It wants to lock him up for a long time.

And for what? For telling would-be jihadis that we are monitoring their Gmail and Facebook accounts? For informing the Chinese that we eavesdrop on many of their important institutions, including their prestigious research universities? For confirming that the Brits eavesdrop on virtually anybody they feel like? Come on. Are there many people out there who didn’t already know these things?

It’s the second paragraph here that leads me to an important point. That is, even Susan Rice, the US ambassador to the United Nations, agrees with Cassidy. As reported by the Guardian:

Rice rejected suggestions that Snowden’s disclosures had made Obama a lame duck, damaged his political base and hurt US foreign policy, saying: “I think that’s bunk.”

“I don’t think the diplomatic consequences, at least as they are foreseeable now, are that significant,” she added.

The following video argues against the notion that Snowden needs to be punished because he has endangered Americans’ lives:

The video talks about exactly why Snowden’s revelations were significant – which was not because he revealed new information. I call them “revelations,” but really they were more like confirmations.

Below are more brief videos that explain the situation from various sources.

What is Prism?

This next video talks about what Prism is, how it works, and why it’s troubling:

It seems as though the NSA surveillance is far greater than most people know, and what has been “officially” revealed is only the tip of the iceberg. And yet this program consistently fails to do the one thing it’s supposed to do – keep Americans safe. But let’s leave the inefficacy of the program for now and focus on why companies are complicit in handing over personal data to the government. All of these are touched on in this video:

Is Prism Effective?

And then there’s the question of how effective Prism has been at its purpose – to protect Americans from terrorists. The video also brings up all the important legal questions about how governments should go about surveillance programs, while discussing the evidence against its efficacy:

You can guarantee that if there was any instance in which Prism was actually used to stop a terrorist, they would be parading that victory around like a big, tall American flag. Instead, we have to listen to “misleading,” “erroneous,” or “false” information from NSA officials, which is just a very fancy way of saying “lying” – or to be even more technical, “not telling the truth.”

After all, despite being notified by Russia that the would-be “Boston Bombers” were potential threats, America failed to make any move. They totally ignored Russia’s warning, and therefore failed to protect their citizens. And yet, social network sites – which terrorists obviously avoid – are still under surveillance. Even one of the Boston Bomber posted radical videos on YouTube, and they still weren’t caught. This video has more details:

[August 10 Update: As I reported earlier, the NSA is unable to present a single case of their law-defying surveillance being used to stop terrorism.]

The Message vs. The Messenger

The next video looks at how the Snowden case changed from a case about surveillance information to one that wants to shoot the messenger. Discrediting Snowden with an unsurprising smear campaign – throwing around words like “high-school dropout” and “terrorist punk.” But considering he gave up his normal, free, cozy life with a nice girlfriend and a well-paid job, the smears remind me of a quote from Tyne Daly:

A critic is someone who never actually goes to the battle, yet who afterwards comes out shooting the wounded.

This video shows the evolution of this ongoing story, including how the media has been approaching it:

When Snowden made his revelations, he said “The greatest fear that I have regarding the outcome for America of these disclosures is that nothing will change.” During an online Q&A session in the days following the news, Snowden said that he was feeling good about the initial public response. “Unfortunately,” he said, “the mainstream media now seems far more interested in what I said when I was 17 or what my girlfriend looks like rather than, say, the largest program of suspicionless surveillance in human history.” In fact, in the above video, they explain what were the media’s likely motivations for attacking Snowden like they have been doing. It’s very disconcerting. No wonder so many young people get their news from online.

Furthermore, they mention that former president Richard Nixon was impeached for bugging about 50 people’s phones. Now, we’re talking about billions.

And if you were wondering if the US was really motivated keep people in the dark, consider the new decision to block the Guardian website – which is where Snowden made his revelations – to the US military. Are they really interested in a free press? This video discusses:

An overall sum-up of the media’s response to these events can be seen in the first 11 minutes of this video from June 29th:

[July 3 Update: Even the Washington Post, who - along with the Guardian - broke the Snowden story, is now saying that Snowden should be prosecuted. They exploited him for a story and now want to punish him for it. Their own source. No one should ever supply the Washington Post with such information ever again; unlike the Guardian, who stuck by their article.]

Laws, Violations, and Chilling Effects

This following video is of a debate on whistle-blowing, in which the relevant American laws are broken down and explained, showing that the Prism program violates it. This includes the Patriot Act, and the Fourth Amendment, and even touches on passport violations:

The war on whistleblowers is being waged online and in the courts. Now, leaking to the media may now be seen as the crime of espionage. This video talks about this crazy culture of suspicion and paranoia, caused by the “Insider Threat Program”:

So what happened with Snowden? If you have been keeping up with the videos, you’ll know that there have been reports about Snowden getting safe asylum from Ecuador. That’s the same country who are keeping Julian Assange safe, inside the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. Naturally, the US government soon went on the offensive.

They threatened to renounce the “Andean Trade Preference Act,” which is a trade agreement that benefits both countries. In a gradually more common act of standing up against America – the “Land of the Free” – the government of Ecuador took it upon themselves to renounce the trade agreement. This is somewhat ironic because it doesn’t even look like they will be granting Snowden asylum; but I guess they don’t take kindly to blackmail.

The next video is an interview from earlier today with Ecuadorian President Rafael Correa:

And considering how much the US government complains about other countries, it’s pretty hypocritical. Computer science blogger Greg Fish had this to say:

The country which is dominating the world in the tech field and serves as the key node in the global communications grid has been crying wolf about cyberwarfare and espionage while actively waging it.

We were starting to be sure of this when Stuxnet was discovered, we suspected it even stronger when all of its ingenious siblings like Flame and Duqu floated into the spotlight, we had a good idea that the United State was publicly holding back when reports of its potential in cyberwarfare drills with allied nations started surfacing, and with PRISM, we now know it for a fact.

[July 5 Update: The Times of India wrote an article called "How the US is ruining the world wide web" which talks about some of the changes we might see in the next few years about our internet freedoms.]

[July 10 Update: The following video from the Young Turks talks about the argument of how - using the logic of the anti-Snowden crowds - anything released on the internet is, by extension, aiding "the enemy." Also discussed is the hypocrisy of the "tyrannical American government."]

[August 9 Update: Speaking of chilling effects, Lavabit - the encrypted email service which Snowden reportedly used - has just shut down. The CEO was not legally free to explain in full, but announced that the government was forcing him to hand over the information related to his email service, including that of its users. Therefore, he shut it down to protect its users' identities and mail content. "If you knew what I know about email," the CEO said, "you might not use it."]

The New Snowden Files

Some people were wondering whether or not Snowden revealed all of the information that he had too soon. Clearly, this is not the case. A few days ago, Snowden revealed more information on the extent to which the NSA was spying – not on its enemies, but its allies, especially Germany. Details are in the following video from June 30:

Considering the European Union has historically been one of the America’s biggest allies, it’s getting harder for the US to insist that all of their surveillance efforts are for the purpose of catching enemies abroad. In fact, as the interviewee in the video above suggests, the spying was not for security purposes, but for economic purposes. Let’s also remember that, as I mentioned at he start, the UK did similar things to their allies. But the outrage by the EU is mostly against the US. In fact, one video report suggests that US espionage is actually “trying to destroy jobs in Germany.”

Friends indeed.

So to the question of “did Snowden play his hand too soon?” the answer is most certainly “no.” It appears as though there is much more information to be released, and Julian Assange announced yesterday that it will be published regardless of Snowden’s fate. I suppose it’s just a matter of time. This is also reminiscent of Snowden’s situation, currently taking refuge in an airport in Moscow. At least, that’s according to reports. Some people are not convinced that he’s there right now at all.

[July 4 Update: Allegedly, pressure from the US has just put the life of the president of Bolivia in danger because of suspicious that he was smuggling Snowden out of the country. The following video explains why people around the world are justifiably looking at America as a bully nation:]

[July 6 Update: The incident involving the Bolivian president has essentially united the continent of South America against the US and its European "puppets." In fact, the denial of airspace is being called an "imperial hijacking" as some, a "skyjacking," by others, and others still are claiming that this is tantamount not only to disrespect, but to kidnapping. And as the following video explains, this is changing the opinions of nations all around the world deciding whether or not to give Snowden asylum, especially Ecuador:]

[July 12 Update: Venezuela, among other countries, has said that Snowden will be granted asylum if he wants it, but now a problem is that he can't get from his temporary hideout in an airport in Moscow to a Venezuela-bound plane. So he is asking for temporary asylum from Russia. Russian president Putin has said that as long as Snowden "does not harm their US partners," he will be given asylum, which Snowden has officially agreed to. There's just one problem: Putin is referring to the leaks, whereas Snowden is stating that he believes that the leaks are causing no harm to the US. Therefore, it's uncertain if Putin will comply with the asylum request. What's certain, though, is that US pressure has made it impossible for Snowden to get on another plane without such compliance.]

Rights and Civil Liberties

This next video looks into everything from the distinction between spying on foreign governments vs. foreign nationals to the strategic control America has on internet traffic. Among other things, Rick Falkvinge, the founder of the Swedish Pirate Party and an internet freedom activist, made a great point in this interview, about how internet is not about controlling people, but empowering people. And as the interviewer observes, the now euphemistic term “national interest” is being used – by a small group of decision makers, not a national dialogue – to justify any action.

[http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=chLs7NIe_fs&feature=youtu.be]

Falkvinge also explains how this internet age is basically the exact same thing that happened when the invention of the printing press broke the Catholic Church’s monopoly on information dissemination. Considering the internet has become the newest method to parse truth from falsities, this freedom is under threat. Ultimately, he demands that the same laws and rights that are afforded to us offline are the same as online. For example, if I send a letter in the mail, I expect that the mailman is not going to open it and read it. So why is an email so different?

This next video is a full 47 minute episode of the Al Jazeera show “Empire,” which is a critical look at the intelligence/industrial complex. It starts with some earlier history, all the way back to the 1970’s. It goes on to talk about 9/11 and whistleblower William Binney in 2001, and of course, Obama. But then they go onto a 3-way interview which gets very interesting:

One of the things they talk about is the very naive and foolish notion of “I don’t have anything to fear because I have nothing to hide.” It’s that lack of outrage that Americans have which is partly responsible for the NSA’s ability to continue its work. Within the first few minutes of the first interview, the interviewees show exactly why this is a flawed argument. It comes down to ignorance – people just don’t understand how the information can be used.

One of the interviewees in the video above is Evgeny Morozov, who presented the TED talk called “How the Net aids dictatorships.” And that was four years ago, even before anyone heard of WikiLeaks. Just imagine what he would have said if he did this presentation today.

Regardless, an important ending to the Empire program is this brief clip, which talks about “the secret of secrets”:

[July 6 Update: Popular French newspaper "Le  Monde" has just reported on France's foreign intelligence agency, the DGSE (Direction Generale de la Securite Exterieure), claiming that they collect and store data on all emails, SMSs, phone calls, and twitter and facebook posts. But as the Japan Times explains, they're not the same thing.

Le Monde compared the French digital dragnet to PRISM, the top-secret U.S. National Security Agency surveillance program that has most alarmed Internet users and civil liberties advocates. But PRISM, recently revealed by a former NSA and CIA contractor, appears aimed at allowing U.S. spies to peel the data off the servers of Silicon Valley firms — whereas the program described in Le Monde appears to be fed through the mass interception of electronic data bouncing across the world. Also, PRISM can apparently be used to collect content, not just metadata.]

How Great is American Surveillance Really?

For a country that purports to be able to save American lives with all of their fancy surveillance techniques, shouldn’t there be something said for the fact that they haven’t even been able to catch a “high-school dropout?” Why would the public trust the NSA to catch someone who is actually trying to harm Americans when they can’t even catch Snowden?

It seems to me that Prism is more set up to dig old information up rather than find solutions to a problem in a timely manner. And that would certainly be more useful for finding reasons to prosecute someone (i.e., a whistleblower) than stop an impending terrorist attack.

There’s one more thing that needs to be said about this. The NSA and the CIA have stopped terrorism. They have stopped attacks, and protected American lives before. I am not suggesting otherwise. However, those preventions were not because of Prism.

Therefore, I am against widespread spying programs. I want the luxury to email someone without having my letter saved somewhere, just like if I sent it by snail mail. No government – be it the US, UK, or any other government – has the right to do so; especially without a public debate first. And instead of criticizing Edward Snowden for revealing what many people already suspected, it’s about time we hold governments accountable and stop allowing the US media to change the subject.

Freedom is hammered out on the anvil of discussion, dissent, and debate.   –Hubert H. Humphrey, 38th Vice President of the United States of America

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