Public sentiment towards Edward Snowden, source of the leak on the NSAs PRISM Program, varies between Traitor and Hero. As a result I’ve been asked numerous times in the last few weeks what the technology perspective is on him. First I have to say we don’t have all the facts. One side can jump to the he’s a hero, he sacrificed his livelihood to tell Americans about the PRISM Program. The other side just as quickly says he’s a traitor he’s jeopardized national security.
Both may be right, we just don’t have enough information to really make that call yet, and when you get down to it we don’t know what Edward Snowden’s motivations were in releasing his information and high-tailing it out of the country. So I think we should take a moment to look at what we do know.
People really should know by now, that to one extent or another, their online activity is being monitored, and if you don’t you’re being extremely naive. We know our bosses at work are keeping an eye on our online activity and emails and in many cases using some kind of content filter along with an acceptable use policy to prevent wasted time online and to lesson the potential for bringing viruses and malware into their business network. Your spouse may be always asking what you’re up to online. You login to your children’s mail and social media accounts to make sure they’re not up to something that would concern you or talking to people that shouldn’t be.
Let’s face it, the online world is not very private. So everyone should expect that in some way the government is also attempting to mine this vast amount of data for information.
What we were not aware of until Snowden’s disclosure was the kind of and extent of the information gathering and storage. In light of the revelations major companies Yahoo, Google, Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Skype, etc have taken a hit to their reputation as people worry about how much of their private information is now sitting in government databases. Several of these companies have asked the DOJ for permission to release more information on these information requests, however they face steep odds at getting their requests approved. Carrie Cordero, Director of National Security Studies at Georgetown University Law Center says, “To my knowledge, there would not be precedent for the director of national intelligence to declassify operational details of that nature.”
Documents show the NSA is mining meta-data. Students at MIT have created a tool to help visualize what the NSA’s mining of “meta-data” can show about individuals. To take a look for yourself here is the link to MIT’s Immersion tool.
On the one hand Americans have serious concerns over the invasion of their privacy, but what about the other side, the threat to America’s National Security?
At this point we don’t know how much Snowden has leaked, how much more there is to leak or who all he’s leaked it to. Any reasonable person should be concerned that the first two places Snowden went with his information are China and Russia; arguably two of the biggest players in Cyber-War. How often do you read stories about the Chinese and Russians in cyber-warfare? The story released earlier this year that China had hacked into the Patriot Missile. Or the article from Wired earlier that year that Reports find China sill largest source of hacking and cyber attacks. And the Forbes article about “good old fashioned espionage” with China and Russian being the main sources of cyber attacks on the U.S. Government and private sector computer networks.
So for those calling Snowden a traitor, there’s a good argument to be made as you examine his travel thus far. Perhaps he has not divulged any national security secrets, but as he’s wheeling and dealing for asylum chances are he’s given them more than his charming personality as a reason to provide it.
And knowing that Snowden has been in Russia for the last three weeks, can it really be a coincidence that the Russian FSO (Federal Protection Service) is returning to using typewriters in lieu of computers for their communications?
Hero, Traitor, or a combination of the two – only time will tell.