So. We have Edward Snowden stuck (still) in a Moscow airport terminal after a Where-in-the-World-is-Carmen-San Diego-type international pursuit. Venezuela, Bolivia, and Ecuador have all offered him asylum, and he’ll probably get to one of those countries eventually (once Putin’s government becomes complicit with the understanding that in doing so they put US government teeth at its throat).
But I’ve stopped caring so much about the Snowden chase. To be honest, I cared more about Rusty the red panda who was allegedly panda-napped the same week from the National Zoo (I’m glad to report that Rusty has been sent home, unlike Snowden.)
What I do care about is how this scandal has affected the American psyche in terms of freedom, and how that effect has impacted the way we see technology moving forward. It’s not so much whether you do or do not support Snowden’s decision to “out with it, Flounder,” but the fact that, regardless, we now know what the government’s been up to. To a certain degree, we are now conscious that everything we do over the phone or web can be traced or recorded.
The National Security Agency is able to listen to the phone call you made to your boyfriend, look at your browser history and see your Netflix queue. What’s interesting is that it is still a felony for civilians to open print-based mail meant for another, or to tap another’s mobile or home phone. What the American public is presented with is a massive double standard common in many other legal areas: the government can do it, but you cannot. It is the assumption that their discretion is better than yours. And let us remember that there is the supposed security side to the widespread monitoring: terrorist attacks are being planned through technological means, and their prevention must do the same. But does that mean we should be scared to use Google searchbars, to have an audience while calling for an appointment to treat hemorrhoids? Aren’t there things that the government shouldn’t have access to, matters that are private that shouldn’t be cloaked as being viewed for security reasons?
The jury’s out, because it isn’t our choice anymore. It’s been made for us, defended and accused by many a politician but given to us merely to swallow. It changes the way we view ourselves and each other, it changes the fabric of contemporary relationships. The question becomes, can we feel safe in media-based communication if we feel that those mediums are being monitored. Can we justify this, though it shows signs of fledgling government censorship?
In an interview Secretary of State John Kerry claimed that Snowden’s actions enabled terrorists to better understand the ways in which America attempts to forego being attacked. He spun the NSA program as one tailored only to search out and stop potential threats. In this area, this unarguably is a good thing. We all wish for there to be no targeted violence towards the United States. But that comes at a high cost: the American government no longer trusts its population with the freedom of the internet and phone lines. And that breakdown of trust could be the beginning of the rotting of trust in other places and relationships.
The other day I tried to explain to my father what ‘Snapchat’ is. As many of you know, it was originally designed for, erm, sexual images from one person to another. Its basis is that the pictures it sends only last for a few seconds before puffing into the virtual stratosphere. After telling him about Snapchat’s humble erotic beginnings, I was tapping and snapping to demonstrate when my father cleared his throat. “So”, he said, trying to segue delicately, “now that the cat’s out of the bag with the whole NSA thing, does this mean that these pictures can be saved onto ulterior places too?” I stopped snapping. Think, friends, about the amount of “private” Snapchats circulating just in the DMV. And that’s just the beginning.