One of the first things that I talked about in One Nation Under Who was Edward Snowden. It has been almost a year since the Guardian began to write about what Edward Snowden had leaked. Recently, the Washington Post and the Guardian won the Pulitzer Prize of Public Service, one of journalism’s highest honors. Edward Snowden saw the prize as “vindication” of sorts. He still considers himself a whistleblower around the world, having asked a question of Vladimir Putin on Russian surveillance.
Interestingly, Americans still seem torn on whether they approve of Snowden’s actions. Pew Research shows a generational gap–a majority of 18-29 year olds say that Snowden did the right thing in exposing the NSA, whereas those over 50 years older were more likely to say that Snowden caused more harm in exposing the NSA1.
At first, this attitude seems strange, seeing how the younger generation grew up on the Internet. From a young age, they have signed up for services online that ask for one’s age and location. Clicks and searches reveal one’s consumer habits to a company, which uses it to sell information right back at the consumer.
So this younger generation, which adopts technology faster than the older generation, should be used to violations of privacy–actually, they should expect it. However, once it becomes the government, the younger generation shows immediate distrust. I am not saying that this distrust is unjustified, but what exactly is the difference between the government having this information and a private company?
The new law regarding the NSA, proposed as reform by Obama and Congress, would involve having telephone companies holding onto the information. Technically, the NSA would not conduct “man-in-the-middle” attacks anymore, where they intercept the data as it is sent from user to company. However, the bill would allow the NSA to request information from private companies.2
Perhaps the hope is that the companies would protest egregious violations of people’s privacy. However, what would the companies know about national security that would give them the knowledge of when to say no and when to say yes? If they were to say no, what reasonable excuse would they give, without knowledge of national security? The government has all use of legitimate force–they could arguably force the companies in the name of national security.
So while not encouraging outright faith in government, I see the faith in the private corporations that control our data as disturbing as well. At least, the government, on the outside, is supposed to have our best interests in mind. A private corporation is responsible, first and foremost, to stockholders. Ethics are probably not their first concern either.