Snowden: Bulk Data Collection is Ineffective, Promotes Insecurity and Oppression
As the country watches the battle between the FBI and Apple unfold, former NSA contractor and whistleblower Edward Snowden uses his notoriety to bring attention to the surveillance problem publicly.
During an interview with the Spanish TV channel Sexta, Snowden gave his two cents on the subject, extending his commentary to the realm of bulk data collection and why it never works.
“In the wake of the revelations of mass surveillance,” Snowden explained, “[US] President [Barack Obama] appointed two independent commissions to review the efficiency of these [surveillance] programs, what they really did and what effect they had in combating terrorism.” What they found, Snowden continued, was that none of the surveillance programs carried out by Washington “stopped a single terrorist attack and never made a concrete difference in a terrorist investigation.”
When looking into how the CIA and NSA have violated the US Constitution for ten years by snooping on Americans’ private communications without ever producing warrants, Snowden continued, “we must ask ourselves: Was it ever worth it?”
With news showing surveillance programs are used for purposes other than fighting terrorism, it’s difficult to ignore the whistleblower’s claims. Especially since the current administration seems unwilling to put an end to its ineffective programs.
Nowadays, bulk data collection is “more aggressive and invasive” than ever before, Snowden told Sexta. “Law enforcement and intelligence structures do not any longer bother to pick up a suspect and hack his cell phone, they cut into all lines and communications” instead. To the whistleblower, this is a clear violation of innocent people’s rights, since federal agents attack the “heart of the society” instead of following tangible evidence.
The debate revolving around privacy and bulk data collection often misses the importance of privacy in a free society. Something that Snowden likes to revisit often. During the interview, he explained this angle of the debate by reminding the reporter that “it is no different from saying you don’t care about freedom of speech because you have nothing to say, … There are rights that provide value to you even if you’re not actively engaged in them in that moment.”
Currently, Americans are struggling to identify exactly what is and isn’t the best way to go about the surveillance subject. As the public is bombarded with divisive, autocratic rhetoric tied to the presidential campaign, many become oblivious, ignoring their surveillance-related concerns.
Understanding that existing tools like the Internet will always be abused by criminals, and that the federal government is incapable of keeping tabs on what citizens are doing at all times is all part of the problem. Famed economist F. A. Hayek talked extensively about the knowledge problem, explaining that the importance of knowledge of individual circumstances is often minimized by state officials, and the results are often bad to freedom since central planners like to claim they know just what they need to do to solve whatever problem is at hand.
Much like economic problems, which often become much worse as government intervention gets a boost, more surveillance has the same effect, forcing criminals to take part in even more obscure communication methods in order to remain untraceable. The unintended consequences are seldom discussed, but it’s the American individual who pays the price.
If Snowden and many other privacy advocates are right, the federal government’s efforts against terrorism could benefit greatly from a privacy-centered policy. After all, sacrificing freedom in the name of a false sense of security makes us both less safe and less free.