The wisdom of Edward Snowden: secret courts, American individualism, and uni censorship

Edward Snowden, January 2014 by DonkeyHotey

Since opening a Twitter account and mocking the NSA, the whistleblower Edward Snowden has been tweeting out his thoughts on a regular basis, much to the delight of his supporters.

In a series of messages yesterday he began by criticising a recent case in Iran in which Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian was convicted in a secret court.

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Edward Snowden opens Twitter account, immediately mocks NSA

Edward Snowden, Wired cover, September 2014 by Mike Mozart

Edward Snowden, the NSA whistleblower responsible for revealing mass snooping by both British and American spies, opened a Twitter account on Tuesday in style.

In his first message Snowden even took the opportunity to mock the spy agency that he used to do contract work for, tweeting:

Seemingly the message is a reference to the American telecoms company Verizon, which created a number of adverts flaunting the supposed superiority of its phone network, one of which is below:

The gag is that the first story from the trove Snowden leaked to journalist Glenn Greenwald concerned mass collection of Verizon customers’ telephone data.

In later tweets Snowden shot the shit with astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson, who welcomed the whistleblower onto Twitter as a “patriot”, a term much contested in America where national pride is a more vaunted quality than in Britain.

Jack Dorsey, chief executive of Twitter, was equally pleased, but others were not so impressed by the arrival of Snowden.

Oh, and the only Twitter account Snowden is following? The NSA, naturally.

Image Credit – Edward Snowden, Wired cover, September 2014 by Mike Mozart

‘Snowden Treaty’ launched to combat mass snooping and defend whistleblowers

Edward Snowden mural, July 2013 by Thierry Ehrmann

Privacy activists launched a so-called “Snowden Treaty” on Thursday in the latest bid to combat the West’s mass snooping, and also protect whistleblowers.

Named after Edward Snowden, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor who alerted the world to the prodigious activities of American and British spies, the document has been drawn up by the team of journalists and activists who reported Snowden’s findings.

The gist of the proposal is that it will serve as the privacy equivalent of the Geneva Convention, a series of treaties and protocols that sets a humanitarian benchmark for how war is conducted.

“Signatories to the [Snowden] Treaty will be obliged to enact concrete changes to outlaw mass surveillance,” a press release explained. “The treaty would also develop international protections for whistleblowers.”

The treaty recommends that governments establish independent authorities on privacy to increase oversight, conduct reviews of snooping practices every five years, and ensure that whistleblowers are not sanctioned for releasing info “with the reasonable intent of exposing wrongdoing.”

It also advocates that protections for whistleblowers apply even in countries that do not sign up to the scheme, in effect guaranteeing a right to claim asylum for those being persecuted for whistleblowing in a given country.

Supporters of the Snowden Treaty, listed on the official website, include journalist Glenn Greenwald who first reported the leaks, his colleague and documentary maker Laura Poitras, and Jacob Appelbaum, a key member of the virtual private network Tor.

Also backing the document are the Internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom, currently fighting extradition to the US over copyright infringement allegations, and the academic Noam Chomsky.

A video of the launch event can be viewed below:

Image Credit – Edward Snowden mural, July 2013 by Thierry Ehrmann

How GCHQ, MI5 and MI6 are dodging democratic scrutiny over ‘bulk personal datasets’

GCHQ model, Sept 2006, Matt Crypto

The British have been infringing on freedom a lot longer than their cousins across the Atlantic – so perhaps it is not surprising that we do it better.

Even as the Yanks roll back the NSA’s powers to sift through American phone records the resurgent Tory government in Britain is using its new majority to tackle freedom through the Snooper’s Charter and Extremism Bill – the latter of which does not even require a sinister sounding nickname.

Fortunately in the spirit of bringing home the revolution Privacy International, a British charity with a global remit, is challenging the spooks’ abilities to put together “bulk personal datasets” with little or no legal oversight.

Such powers only became known in March with the publication of a report by the Intelligence and Security Committee of Parliament, which noted that these collections were only authorised implicitly by other powers granted to spies. And even the committee, which is hardly unsympathetic to the “national security” argument for snooping, had some concerns to raise:

  • “Until the publication of this report, the capability was not publicly acknowledged, and there had been no public or parliamentary consideration of the related privacy considerations and safeguards.
  • “The legislation does not set out any restrictions on the acquisition, storage, retention, sharing and destruction of bulk personal datasets, and no legal penalties exist for misuse of this information.
  • “Access to the datasets – which may include significant quantities of personal information about British citizens – is authorised internally within the agencies without ministerial approval.”

What data goodies are contained in such collections is unstated in the report, though they can contain “hundreds to millions” of records. As such it is understandable that Eric King, deputy director of Privacy International, is rather upset at the practice.

“Secretly ordering companies to hand over their records in bulk, to be data-mined at will, without independent sign off or oversight, is a loophole in the law the size of a double-decker bus,” he said.

“The use of these databases, some volunteered, some stolen, some obtained by bribery or coercion, has already been abused, and will continue to be, until the practice is overhauled, and proper protections put in place.”

The Home Office, whose secretary Theresa “Jackboot” May has been at the forefront of stamping on British freedom, maintains that such powers are necessary to stop the terrorists slaughtering us all, and that there is appropriate oversight – a view which appears naïve, careless or malignant.

At least the Brits can take comfort from the fact that unlike the Yanks we do not endow our snooping bills with names as Orwellian as the Patriot Act and the Freedom Act. It is a shame we cannot say the same for their contents.

Header Image – GCHQ Model, September 2006 by Matt Crypto