On PRISM and the NSA leaks, part 2

The Edward Snowden story has continued to develop over the past couple of weeks, both in terms of new revelations of U.S. (and allies) surveillance / hacking, as well as Snowden’s personal future.

On the new revelations front, SCMP has been able to claim a series of exclusives, especially around U.S. hacking of China –

Obviously, these stories don’t help the U.S. government’s negotiations with China over hacking that goes the other direction, and not surprisingly some critics of Snowden would label him a traitor in response. However, I think it’s certainly in the U.S. public’s interests to know what activities (legal or otherwise) their government is up to; and furthermore it’s better for the World Wide Web as a whole if we know more of government-sponsored large-scale hacking (and massive intrusion of privacy), regardless of what political system (democratic or not) the government in question employs.

Meanwhile, The Guardian unveiled two new documents that show how the U.S. intelligence agencies filter out data that belongs to people in the States. Or rather, how weak those supposed protections are – for example, if you use Tor or other encryption/anonymity software you qualify as a non-US person and your data can be stored in the intel databases. And certainly all these checks and balances mean nothing for people in other parts of world. It’s also probably a giant step backwards for democracy as a whole, when you can call on your allies to spy on your citizens and vice versa (UK’s GCHQ and the NSA working hand in hand).

Regarding Snowden himself, he’s certainly made the weekend busy for journalists with his flight to Moscow and his asylum application to Ecuador. There was no shortage of popcorn entertainment – The Hong Kong SAR government was happy to point the middle finger at the U.S. in their official statement, while Russia was probably grinning as well; the US apparently made remarks about repercussions to both these governments down the road.

Looking ahead, there are probably some new pieces of classified information with big implications to look forward to, and Snowden’s personal fate will provide plenty of soap opera. However, at this point the broad strokes of the scale and reach of the U.S. government’s cyber-spying has been painted, and I’m more interested in what concrete changes can be made, both in the US and internationally. The pessimist in me says it may just be business as usual (the track record of U.S. politics in recent years on real change is disappointing – just look at Wall Street). But this is too important a topic to be “business as usual” – coming from a country where it’s far easier to witness the dark side of unrestricted surveillance and the lack of rule of law, I believe I can see the end of the slippery slope better than most of my American friends, and it’s not pretty (spoiler – it’s a cliff).

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