Edward Snowden risked his life and freedom to bring to the world’s attention that the American government illegal (and unethically) spies on innocent people everywhere on the planet. Many Americans called Snowden a traitor and a liar. Now, the courts in his home country agree with Snowden: the wiretapping by the National Security Agency (NSA) was indeed illegal. Hopefully the American government will stop spying on innocent people, and with his vindication hopefully others will be inspired to speak truth to power like Snowden did.
The US Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit said that the program, under which the NSA collected and analyzed bulk data provided by telecommunications companies, was in violation of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act and could have been unconstitutional.
“Seven years ago, as the news declared I was being charged as a criminal for speaking the truth, I never imagined that I would live to see our courts condemn the NSA’s activities as unlawful and in the same ruling credit me for exposing them,” said Snowden, who fled to Russia after exposing the program, on Twitter. “And yet that day has arrived.”
In a world where our digital lives are tracked by democratic governments (Canada and the UK amongst them) we need to ensure that we can have private conversations online. Over at Digg they have collected a very easy to follow setup to get your protecting your privacy online in only an hour!
Keep Your Private Conversations Private
It’s rude enough for a stranger to even eavesdrop on your conversations in a place as public as a park. So opting to use messaging services with end-to-end encryption doesn’t make you some sort of criminal or tin foil hat-wearing nut. Whether you mind or not, there are organizations out there that are just scooping up every chat (Hello NSA!) you send out over the internet. No one is actively looking at them, or might ever look at them, but they’re listening so you might as well turn some music on or something.
It’s sort of like taping over your webcam or looking both ways before you cross the street — it’s such an easy and painless thing to do that it far outweighs the consequences of not doing that thing.
Some might say “I don’t care if they violate my privacy; I’ve got nothing to hide.” Help them understand that they are misunderstanding the fundamental nature of human rights. Nobody needs to justify why they “need” a right: the burden of justification falls on the one seeking to infringe upon the right. But even if they did, you can’t give away the rights of others because they’re not useful to you. More simply, the majority cannot vote away the natural rights of the minority.
One year ago today Edward Snowden revealed to the world evidence that many long suspected – that the American government is actively performing mass surveillance. Innocent people have been targeted and information the likes of which we’ll never fully know has been collected on nearly anyone who’s used the internet.
It’s not just the American NSA that is spying on the public – it’s global. In Canada, CSEC has been collecting mass data on the Canadian populace no matter who it is. In this sort of police state surveillance we need to operate as if everything we do online is being watched. This is NOT ok.
Today, June 5th, organizations like Mojang, Amnesty International, and even Google are calling for this intrusive spying to stop. The campaign Reset the Net is calling on websites, apps, and everything in-between to use technical solutions to make the mass surveillance run by governments more difficult. Governments shouldn’t be able to read your communications without due process.
In the year since we first learned the lurid details of the NSA’s dragnet spying operation, a massive wave of opposition has echoed across the world. Millions have taken action online and in the streets with one clear message: mass surveillance by any government is illegitimate. It violates our right to be ourselves, and undermines freedom of speech and democracy.
Despite the massive public outcry, a whole year after the revelations governments have failed to address our concerns. The NSA and other spy agencies are still tapping our phones and computers, while politicians endlessly debate our rights away.
The NSA is the world’s largest employer of mathematicians and now there is a movement from some mathematicians calling for a protest against the spying agency. We don’t know what they work on at the NSA but we do know that mathematicians contributed extensively to the Orwellian mass surveillance of people around the world. The revelations from Edward Snowden as shown that the NSA’s surveillance efforts have increased security risks for anybody who uses the internet.
If you’re a mathematician please don’t go work for agencies like the NSA, GCHQ, or CSEC because their unethical and immoral behaviour as institutions is certainly not a good thing. Stopping mass surveillance is.
At a bare minimum, we mathematicians should talk about this. Maybe we should go further. Eminent mathematician Alexander Beilinson of the University of Chicago has proposed that the American Mathematical Society sever all ties with the NSA, and that working for it or its partners should become “socially unacceptable” in the same way that working for the KGB became unacceptable to many in the Soviet Union.
Not everyone will agree, but it reminds us that we have both individual choices and collective power. Individuals can withdraw their labour. Heads of university departments can refuse staff leave to work for the NSA or GCHQ. National mathematical societies can stop publishing the agencies’ job adverts, refuse their money, or even expel members who work for agencies of mass surveillance.
At the very least, we should acknowledge that these choices are ours to make. We are human beings first and mathematicians second, and if we do not like what the secret services are doing, we should not cooperate.
Thanks to Edward Snowden we have learned about America’s and other countries illegitimate and immoral mass surveillance operations. More revelations about the extent of the surveillance programs are sure to come. Just in the past couple of days it was revealed that the NSA operates a kill list based on SIM cards in cell phones regardless of who actually uses the phone.
The argument that we shouldn’t care about the surveillance because they only look at metadata is bunk. SIM cards are an example of the metadata the NSA (et. al) care about and it has led to too many civilian deaths from drone strikes.
People like myself find this type of surveillance to be rather problematic and insanely dangerous. If you’re in Canada be sure to tell your local MP that you are opposed to the spying done by Canada’s NSA: CSEC.
More than 5,300 web-based companies and other organizations, including Reddit, Imgur, Tumblr, Mozilla the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, have joined forces to protest National Security Agency surveillance on Feb. 11.