To spy or not to spy, that debate is what’s playing out around the world and particularly in the US since whistleblower Edward Snowden’s storm of National Security Agency (NSA) leaks to journalists and those alike. It would seem that debate over intrusive government spying has yet to be concluded. And with already over 200,000 documents released by Snowden, what’s to come is leaving officials on the edge of their seats.
Giving some indication as to what comes next, Snowden’s story-breaking journalist Glenn Greenwald told Chaos Communication Congress (CCC), an annual conference for international hackers and computer gurus, that information about the NSA is still coming, and a lot of it. The former Guardian journalist told listeners that while it’s important to cover these leaks, it’s as equally important to understand exactly what they’re writing about.
Other speakers included Julian Assange who phoned in to discuss privacy and government issues. Assange told the conference that privacy advocates and hackers should take it upon themselves to fight against government surveillance. And although the outlook for privacy backers may look grim, considering the massive leakage by Snowden showing the destruction of privacy, Greenwald had positive words in the end.
Greenwald said, “One of most significant outcomes of the last few months has been the increased awareness of the importance of encryption and privacy,” referring to the sudden transition of awareness as a “remarkable sea change”. Realizing the loss of privacy and the growth of the surveillance state, the former Guardian journalist noted that democratic processes would not change proper policy, calling the system a duped one.
The Brazilian-based journalist offered a different message of change. Greenwald explained, “When it’s no longer we in fear of them, but they in fear of us, that’s when these policies will change.” While refraining from going into detail, Greenwald made sure to point out that Snowden’s actions were in the defense of civil liberty advocates, and that making such moves costed Snowden, however, for Brazil or Germany to pick up Snowden’s tab would cost much less.
Calling it an “ethical” and “moral” obligation, Greenwald explained that Germany and Brazil should return the favor of protecting rights, just as Snowden did for both countries.
As Greenwald, his accomplices and Snowden continue to prepare and release more information, lawmakers in the House are using the leaks to push tightening legislation on the NSA. The USA Freedom Act, which has been heavily promoted by Rep. Justin Amash, offers somewhat of a reel-in reform by policymakers. All together, the bill stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection, and Online-Monitoring Act”.
Interestingly, the USA Freedom Act would open up a position in the NSA for a “special advocate” who would oversee operations, on a pro-privacy basis. Packed with a large, but not an entirely sharp bite, the bill would require the NSA to stop bulk meta-data collection, throw transparency on the FISA courts by making the attorney general release court rulings to the public and give internet and telephone companies the green light to release information regarding court orders received by the FISA courts.
The House bill is chalking up many co-sponsors as well. In the beginning of December, about 70 co-sponsors backed the USA Freedom Act, and now, in the end of December, nearly 120 co-sponsors are on board. Introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner, the bill has also seen staunch support by freshman Congressman Thomas Massie.
With combined efforts from whistleblower Snowden, journalists and anyone in between, along with lawmaker support, it would appear reigning in the NSA is around the corner. On the other hand, the question must be asked: Has government surveillance grown so large in uses and special interests that reeling in the constructed walls of secret courts, massive data collection and international surveillance relationships near impossible?