I have so many thoughts buzzing around my head about surveillance and what is happening with the NSA and Edward Snowden that it’s hard to know where to start. So I have attempted to condense things down into the most important points as I see them:
First, let me unequivocally state that I am personally grateful to Snowden for exposing the extent of surveillance itself and maybe even more importantly the ridiculousness that is the legal framework within which it is conducted.
Second, Snowden’s choice of leaking the information from Hong Kong and his current travel to Russia (and potentially on to Ecuador or Iceland) is not a sideshow. We have created a legal situation where his presumption that he would *not* get a fair trial in the US seems right which is a huge problem for our democracy in an of itself.
Third, I believe there is a legitimate debate to be had about the costs and potential benefits of different types of network analysis (and I am intentionally avoiding the word surveillance which is already loaded). There is *no* argument though for carrying any such analysis out through a Kafkaesque maze of secret organizations, secret courts and secret committees (Kafka is one of my favorite authors and “Before the Law" comes to mind).
Fourth, I fear that the use of strong cryptography by citizens is *not* the answer. This will lead us further down the path of a spy-versus-spy society. It will be a potent argument for government to double down on its own secrecy. Instead, I believe we need to find a way forward in the opposite direction where we as citizens embrace transparency and expect the same from our government.
Fifth, I am deeply disappointed in President Obama’s handling of the Snowden case, the Bradley Manning trial, and the underlying secrecy of government overall. I am at fault here too having voted for Obama again in the most recent election even though I am distinctly not in a swing state and could have voted for a third party candidate or not voted at all.
Sixth, nominally the argument made by government for secrecy is to fight terrorism. There are other things that we could and should be doing that would help including dissolving Guantanamo and dramatically reducing our use of drones. Also, we should be strengthening not hollowing out our democracy as a the prime response to terrorism.
By the way, I am not saying that any of this will be easy and that there won’t be setbacks along the way. But if ever there was a time to speak up on these issues it would seem to be now.