What does the NSA, Ed Snowden, Wikileaks scandal teach us about the disconnect between public and government attitudes to privacy? by Sammy Dennison

There is a longstanding debate between government and private ambassadors, concerning attitudes to privacy and the availability of information. My opinion on the matter is quite particular and centres around the utility of the information.
For serious matters such as terrorism, clearly the need to view that information supersedes any whiny defences of a private life, but there is always the danger of this power being abused – and it is exceptionally hard to mitigate this risk due to the highly sensitive, specialised and secret nature of private data usage.

After Germany’s fall out with the America over the NSA scandal, and the quashing of supporters of Bradley Manning, the status of the privacy debate is something of an unfinished symphony, with, I am sorry to report, an intense hate-filled rejection of what is perceived as something of an underhanded betrayal of the people by their governments.

However, for me the problem is a not going to be solved by disparate attempts to quell the dissemination of classified information. What was a highly contentious war may have been overlooked in the prosecution of Bradley Manning under the directions of laws targeted to emphasize the betrayal that was the revelation of information to America’s ‘enemies’.

For me the media attention has overlooked a key facet in the delivery of justice – that is the strategy of invasion chosen by America (and its allies) in the confrontation of militia.
I am not defending the militia in Iraq, but socio-economic development has clear geo-political disparities and whereas some may take interest in the development of these economies, little onus was placed on the import of key commodities, such as water and agricultural infrastructure prior to the invasions.

Thus, although a firm emphasis is levelled currently about the desire to instil security into the countries in questions, I maintain that the first step would be to educate the public about specific details, private information about the standard of life in these countries and what it would need to overcome any obstacles to comfortable progression.

It stands to reason that, if the American public had at first tried to explain and tackle any droughts and famines along vital trade routes for the Iraqi and Afghani populace, then, had a military challenge to these not-for-profit workers been faced, the subsequent deployment of military personnel by Allied forces would have made more sense.

Excepting the rare journalistic bravery of Vice, we do not encounter an awful lot of reasoned debate with Taliban or Al-Shabab forces and we may be blighted with disturbing news reports of tragically consequential offensives by these ‘enemy’ operatives, the facts remain that our directly confrontational actions may exacerbate an already fragile situation, turning more people against us and not facing the serious structural issues that impact the level of instability in these countries.

 

Bio and synopsis: Sammy wrote this essay in response to the growing shroud of secrecy in government surveillance. He currently lives in Manchester, England where he is working on a few projects of his own.

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3 thoughts on “What does the NSA, Ed Snowden, Wikileaks scandal teach us about the disconnect between public and government attitudes to privacy? by Sammy Dennison

  1. Pingback: What does the NSA, Ed Snowden, Wikileaks scandal teach us about the disconnect between public and government attitudes to privacy? by Sammy Dennison | trackingpriorities

  2. I have a few issues with what you have said, if you’ve really said anything at all. Forgive me if I have read this wrong, and if that is the case ignore what I am about to say.

    My main complaint is that you haven’t really said anything about any topic. You briefly mention the danger of abuse of power by intelligence agencies and the Manning fiasco, but then turn your thoughts towards socio-economic developmental problems in Iraq/Afghanistan, and then how if this information was made public we would have encouraged military intervention to help protect non-profit aid work.

    You have jumped topic without actually qualifying any of your statements. How is the leak of vital military and governmental information linked to the lack of information of the socio-economic developmental problems facing Iraq/Afghanistan prior to US invasion? How did the media overlook the strategy of invasion? (ie what was the strategy of invasion, and are you saying that this view was accepted and reinforced by the media? Or are you saying that they were right to invade but their strategy was wrong? Rather confusing). Do you believe that the socio-economic developmental status of Iraq was shielded from the public, because, as far as I am aware, that information was public, or do you believe that the American government should have directly referenced these problems in support of their invasion?

    One of the central problems we faced with the invasion of Iraq is that America and Britain, a long with the whole of NATO and other pro-Kuwaiti forces in the first Gulf War, is that we left Saddam in power consciously. We realised that, similar to the situation of Ghadafi, we benefited more from leaving Saddam in power than removing him. He gave us a non-fundamentalist Islamic leader in the middle of a turbulent region where fundamentalist Islam was gaining a stronghold. When we realised that our relationship was no longer mutually beneficial, both the US and the UK had to endeavour to remove Saddam as quickly as possible.

    Another point is that you seem to claim, (once again forgive me if I am wrong, but it is not entirely clear), that Iraqi militia are driven by the social and economic problems within Iraq, rather than religiously fuelled hatred and a doctrine of anti-western propaganda. I have no doubt that economics and social development play a major role in anti-American sentiment in Iraq/Afghanistan, but you fail to examine the possibility that social construction of a reality whereby America and the West, regardless of intent, are the enemy and that in this reality you are compelled to fight against the perceived oppressor. It is true that social political violence in economically and socially developed countries is less prevalent, but then you could also argue that religious fundamentalism and social acceptance of violence is also less prevalent, so determining which of the two is more influential in encouraging violence is difficult to determine.

    You also sweepingly claim that “For serious matters such as terrorism, clearly the need to view that information supersedes any whiny defences of a private life”, without contemplating the legitimacy of anti-terrorism legislation and action. From a critical point of view, anti-terrorism legislation and anti-terror espionage seek only to reinforce the power of the state in terms of restricting, monitoring and ultimately legislating on the freedom of information. To that end, Bradley Manning was branded a cyber terrorist because the notion of him being a terrorist, created through the power of discourse and reinforced through the media and wider social consensus, legitimates any actions against him and others like him, such as Assange. I personally do not think cyber espionage for the purpose of nullifying terrorist threats is effective or reasonable. It is a direct impingements on rights of the innocent, assuming that they are guilty. It is as if the governments view its citizens as guilty of a crime they haven’t committed yet, and therefore feel the need to participate in espionage in order to authenticate their own suspicions. In terms of actual terrorist activity, current anti-terrorism measures seek only to encourage terrorists to engage in political violence as it is the best way to get a political message across.

    I realise this is probably a very poor response, and hastily concocted, but I only had 15 minutes between football matches and thought it worth a comment. Once again apologies if I read your post wrong.

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  3. Yes I switched from the nature of that information as accessible by government to one about the status of information in society in general. I qualified this by stating my opinion that, “clearly the need to view that information supersedes any whiny defences of a private life,” and delved into points about the difficulty of governing governments, “it is exceptionally hard to mitigate this risk due to the highly sensitive, specialised and secret nature of private data usage.”

    What I hope to have portrayed is my view of the reaction to the spying debacle as one wherein the reaction of the public says moe about the public than it does the government – i.e. a relatively low level of intelligence and a dangerously neglectful condemnation of intrusion of privacy…a sort of golden status awarded to privacy that is not deserved.

    In terms of how I progressed the blog piece, I will be second to admit I had not explored the crucial aspect of anti-terrorism legislation and so on, however I don’t think that this was pertinent to my point: the level of intelligence displayed by the users of that information is the key worry here, not the spying. I tried to emphasize this by talking about Afghanistan and how on most reports on the situation (on BBC news for example) there is hardly ever any mention of the water crisis that they face. This point can be extended to all humanitarian crises and we have to ask why most reporting of the situations focus on the espionage (particularly in relation to the anti-terrorism measures) and not sufficiently on the information itself. It is almost as if the hysteric reaction has overshadowed the very real concern that people are not responding optimally to critical situations around the world.

    If anything good were to come of the NSA, Snowden, Wikileaks and Manning incidents it should have been to view why this information went public, but particularly what we would ideally like to discover in the uncovering of the information of others. No one is an island and unfortunately we need the cooperation of others to achieve real change. In my view the intrusion of privacy was itself a reaction to the dangerous secrecy of so many about their day to day life.

    I appreciate your comment and this is my favourite,

    “Another point is that you seem to claim, (once again forgive me if I am wrong, but it is not entirely clear), that Iraqi militia are driven by the social and economic problems within Iraq, rather than religiously fuelled hatred and a doctrine of anti-western propaganda. I have no doubt that economics and social development play a major role in anti-American sentiment in Iraq/Afghanistan, but you fail to examine the possibility that social construction of a reality whereby America and the West, regardless of intent, are the enemy and that in this reality you are compelled to fight against the perceived oppressor.”

    To respond to that I will simply have to say that I do not know whether the violence is fuelled by ideology or poor socio-economic conditions. I would however argue that this is a case where we have tried ideological confrontation and massively under-explored strategies to bridge socio-economic divides. I would therefore hold my tongue in concluding anything definite about the nature of those who cause unrest in these territories but I would focus on studying resource distribution in order to pinpoint areas of physical scarcity and subsequently focus on the energy costs and politics of individuals, companies and other organisations who, if not for despairing, could be well placed to act as intermediaries in the logistics of getting necessities such as clean water and sustainable agriculture to impoverished regions.

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