By Caitlin Kerr
Edward Snowden. No doubt everyone has heard the story, and everyone has different opinions on his actions. He has been labelled whistle-blower, traitor and even hero by some. But I am not here to debate whether or not this man was right or wrong in what he did. I am here to explain the cause of this monumental conflict.
To give some context for those of you who do not know the full story Edward Snowden was working as a consultant for the NSA; as a system administrator he had access to their systems and in June last year began to reveal certain classified documents to some handpicked journalists leading the way to June’s revelations. As the story continues to unfold before our eyes, we learn more and more about the programs run by the NSA and the clash of ideas, interests and expectations they have caused. To understand the causes of clashes, I have managed to establish contact with Snowden via email. (Applause) We hoped to have a discussion with him live via webcam but unfortunately he is unable to join us due to fear that his location has been traced. Instead I will attempt to explain our discussions over the past few weeks.
To begin, it is important to explain exactly why Snowden released the documents to the public. His ideas contradicted those of the NSA’s; He did not believe that the NSA should be able to run a mass-surveillance system like the PRISM program with access to all our metadata. I quote “They’ve said it’s just metadata, it’s just metadata, and they’re talking about a specific legal authority called Section 215 of the Patriot Act. That allows some sort of a warrantless wiretapping, mass surveillance of the entire country’s phone records, who you’re talking to, when you’re talking to them, where you travelled. These are all metadata events.” He felt that this mass surveillance challenged the right to privacy and that he had to do something about it. He believes “The public had a right to know about these programs” and doesn’t “want to live in a society that does these sort of things [mass surveillance]”. When faced with the threat of retribution from the government, you’d expect him to back down, recant. Fearing for his safety, he fled the country, first to Hong Kong then travelling to Russia where he has remained for the past year, but not backing down, continuing to release documents. Snowden maintains that he isn’t going to stop “just to benefit [him] self” because he believes that “individuals citizens have the duty to violate domestic laws to prevent crimes against peace and humanity from occurring”.
It was not only a clash of ideas that resulted in Snowden’s release of documents; it was a clash of interests. The NSA has been accused of covering up programs and keeping secrets from both the general public and the government. One of the main culprits of this cover up is a program called Bullrun. Named after a Civil War battle, Snowden believes it is named this way because they target our own infrastructure. They are programs through which the NSA intentionally misleads corporate partners. They say they need to work to secure their systems, but in reality they’re building in backdoors that not only the NSA can exploit, they are also degrading the security of their services. This program is run to gain information and ensure that companies such as Google and Yahoo pass on the information they are expected to hand over. The NSA asked for the authority to run programs like this in the 1990s. They asked the FBI to go to Congress and make the case, which the FBI did. Congress and the American people said no. But we find ourselves in the present day, with these programs run behind our backs, without asking Congress and without asking the American people. Their interest in obtaining information is viewed as more important than the consent and safety of the people and corporations in the name of national security.
With the evidence