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<nettime> What We Need to Learn from Snowden (via EPW/Economic and Polit
Frederick FN Noronha ààààààààà àààààààà *ÙØÙØØÙÙ ÙÙØÙÙÙØ on Sun, 8 Sep 2013 20:19:04 +0200 (CEST)

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<nettime> What We Need to Learn from Snowden (via EPW/Economic and Political Weekly-India)

What We Need to Learn from Snowden

Vol - XLVIII No. 36, September 07, 2013 | Richard Stallman


Only by organising politically for human rights, including privacy rights,
can we raise awareness of the dangers of Big Brother state surveillance.

This article, copyrighted to Richard Stallman (rms {AT} gnu.org), President of
the Free Software Foundation (www.fsf.org) and creator of the GNU operating
system, is licensed under the Creative Commons No Derivatives 3.0 License.

Edward Snowden heroically demonstrated to the world the extent to which the
United States (US) and some other countries have converted the internet
into a system for general surveillance of everyone. They do this largely on
the basis of corporations? surveillance: even if a company only wants to
know what sort of ads to show you, the data it collected will be available
to Big Brother.

We knew already that tyrannical states such as China, Tunisia, Libya and
Iran did their utmost to monitor internet users. We had no proof that
?free? countries did it too. For years, I have said in my speeches that I
suspected the US government used the Patriot Act periodically to collect
all the personal data from certain companies, simply because I saw that
that law would permit it and the US government tends to stretch its legal
powers; however, such suspicions are easy to dismiss as ?paranoia?. Thanks
to Snowden, we know the US really does this with telephone companies.
Meanwhile, India plans to practise phone and internet surveillance without
even the flimsy ?limits? that govern the National Security Agency (NSA).

This amounts to surveillance such as Stalin could only dream of. Even he
could not make a list of every conversation, every purchase, every movement
of every person. The US has nearly reached this level. India, with its
national identity cards, is headed the same way. But it can get even worse.

Manufacturers of mobile devices now try to direct users to store their data
in companies? servers instead of their own computers. If you?re foolish
enough to do this, the NSA can fish through your private data. In addition,
many proprietary programs and devices spy on their users. On the Amazon
Kindle, Amazon has access to all the ?marginal notes? that the user makes
about a book. If you use Windows, the NSA can break the security via bugs
that Microsoft has reported to the NSA but has not fixed. (See

The US uses its massive surveillance to imprison the whistle-blowers that
inform us about government crimes such as torture and massacres. When we
cannot have secrets from the state, the state can keep the most horrible
things secret from us. Sad to say, the US is not alone in this; India also
commits plenty of torture and massacres.

Proposals to increase the level of surveillance cite certain standard
reasons: typically, terrorism, pornography, or file-sharing. Terrorism is a
real danger, but it is a small danger when compared to a state that the
people can no longer ?control. As for pornography and file-sharing, they
should be legal ? if you don?t like them, don?t use them.

You can resist some of these forms of surveillance by limiting the data
that you let anyone collect about your daily activities. Buying with a
credit card informs the bank (and state surveillance) what you bought and,
if you?re in a store, where you are; I pay cash. Carrying a mobile phone
tells the phone company (and state surveillance) everywhere you go; I
refuse. Listening to music from a server account tells the company (and
state surveillance) what you listen to, and may also restrict what you can
do with it; I keep copies on my own computers or media. I don?t give
personal data to websites, aside from when I post a comment on one, and I
avoid connecting my computer directly to those sites.

However, it is impossible to fully avoid surveillance while using certain
sorts of digital technology. For instance, there is no way to do email
without surveillance. You can keep the contents of the message private by
encrypting it ? for instance, with the GNU Privacy Guard ? but there is no
way to stop Big Brother from seeking out who you exchange mail with.

We can do better by organising collectively against surveillance. This
means campaigning to change laws so as to reduce general surveillance.

When people organise such campaigns, typically, the first proposal is to
legally limit ?access? to the accumulated data. This is inadequate to solve
the problem. When the state wants to find an excuse to imprison a
whistle-blower, it will find ways to satisfy whatever requirements there
are. To avoid the total surveillance state, we need to limit the
col?lection of data. Systems that log activities must be designed not to
keep personal identifying data for very long, except when there is a prior
court order to keep the data about a particular person. We must replace the
advertising-based system for funding websites with an anonymous method for
paying to access a page.

To raise awareness of the issue, and invite the state?s surveillance agents
to search their consciences about what they are doing, I now include the
following note in most of my outgoing mail:

?To any NSA and FBI agents reading my email: please consider whether
defending the US Constitution against all enemies, foreign or domestic,
requires you to follow Snowden?s example.?

Here I appeal to these agents in the name of their oath of office. Snowden
has demonstrated that surveillance agents can understand that the Patriot
Act is not the same as patriotism; they can recognise their duty, and may
have the courage to act on it.

However, I do not expect large numbers of agents to follow their
consciences to oppose the wrongdoing of the state. To stop that
wrong?doing, we need to organise politically for ?human rights, including
privacy rights.


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