Tomorrow it’s a year to the day since we learnt about the NSA tracking of Verizon telephone customers and on the 6th June the Prism project appeared in the UK Guardian. Glenn Greenwald’s book was published on May 15 and recounts the events and the follow up as well as comprehensive information about what was found. Much of the information has been made available online in conjunction with the release of the book and the links are below.
The comprehensiveness of what is being collected and the largely silent complicity of both tele-communications companies and web and social networking platforms is astonishing. The latter might have been explained if data was being collected selectively in relation to known threats rather than indiscriminately and in bulk but the Verizon story made it clear that the company knew everything was being collected. The closeness of the NZ involvement in the Five Eyes network is well documented but the high level of US private sector contracts (about 2/3 of staff and spending) working on the NSA’s behalf was a surprise and the information kept so secretly it was one of the few areas where Snowden did not shed much light.
Some technical facts were new to me. Any mobile phone, provided it has a battery, can be transformed remotely into a listening device. There are ways of collecting information remotely even from devices that are not internet connected. But the story is compelling in how closely it came to not happening at all. Greenwald details his reticence over several months to install encryption software in response to a then unknown whistle blower’s requests and ultimately it was documentary film-maker Laura Poitras who handed Greenwald the memory stick containing Snowden’s information as they set off on the flight to Hong Kong. Greenwald even emailed the mystery communicator while he was in Hong Kong interviewing Snowden unaware that they were one and the same person.
The releases are testament to the courage of a small group of people, Snowden, Greenwald, Poitras, as well as Guardian staff and editor Alan Rusbridger. The level of surveillance they reveal are as worrying and as comprehensive as you could imagine. In the aftermath the response of many governemnts and of some in the media has become increasingly savage even as the understanding of the dangers we face has become part of the public discussion.
The best counter to the surveillance that has been so comprehensively legalised in NZ since last year’s releases is probably courageous citizenship. Most of us will not have to demonstrate that courage to the extent that he has but it seems appropriate to finish with a few quotations from Edward Snowden.
- “When you release the NSA’s secrets you only harm abusive systems”.
- “The true measure of a person’s worth is not what they say they believe in but what they do in defense of those beliefs. If you are not acting on your beliefs they probably aren’t real”.
- “History shows that seemingly ordinary people who are sufficiently resolute about justice can triumph over the most formidable adversaries”.
Guardian: The NSA files http://www.theguardian.com/world/the-nsa-files
Guardian review: http://www.theguardian.com/books/2014/may/19/no-place-to-hide-review-glenn-greenwald-nsa-gchq-surveillance-edward-snowden-spying
Daily Dot; The best way to read no place to hide. http://www.dailydot.com/politics/glenn-greenwald-no-place-to-hide/ which includes links to a list of online citations and a compressed version and an uncompressed version of the documents.