Can you hear me now? @Snowden and the power of #government surveillance

“Return to America, face your critics.” This is the idiotic statement from doe eyed Nick Hopkins as he interviews Wikileaks founder Julian Assange, who is holed up in the Ecuadorian embassy in London. On numerous occasions friends who I have explained the political situation surrounding the Wikileaks founder have replied “I would have never had known by watching the news.” Indeed, this questions goal is not to gain information for the reader but to misinform those who are unaware of the context in which it is asked. It is not critics that Julian Assange faces, the question posed as if he is running from a harsh book reviewer. It is the weight of the American power structure. This structure which will likely process him under the 1917 espionage act that would mean he would not be legally allowed to make a case in his defense.

Even if you wish to see him return to his homeland for the alleged charge of sexual harassment, it is clear that he would be extradited straight away. The question therefore does a disservice to its viewers as it purposely gives them the wrong impression of the charges Mr. Assange faces. It could be improved by saying, “leave the embassy so that the police who surround your hotel 24/7 at the expense of the taxpayer can extradite you to the United States where you will be tried under vague “war on terror laws” (the same laws that made torture enhanced interrogation) and thrown in a cell to rot.”

The interview overall is something to be noted. Not too long ago, if a spy displeased a global power they were thrown in jail or killed and that was that. Out of Edward Snowden, Julian Assange and Chelsea Manning, only the latter is in jail much to America’s chagrin. It is the threat of the good example that they want to destroy and therefore Edward Snowden recently joining Twitter poses a great threat to the security services of the NSA and GCHQ. It is not the discussion of whether the programs that the NSA and its little brother GHCQ run are illegal, it’s the discussion itself. They do not want the public to be aware the powers that they have. This is worrying, even if one can adequately argue that the powers used to invade privacy are needed for national defence that does not prove that these apparatus themselves can be hidden from the public.

As Snowden seems to return from his social media recluse and do more interviews and post more on Twitter (he now has over one million followers) the threat of a good example will come to the forefront. The debate of whether he is a patriot or a hero is already raging and it is one that American government cannot wait to find out the answer to. They must not let the situation spiral out of their control. The Snowden’s and Assange’s of the world need to be locked in a black site not making sarcastic quips to their old bosses.

In the recently released Wikileaks book that I will review soon, Julian Assange ends his introduction with a warning Daniel Ellsberg gave to Henry Kissinger:

“It will…become very hard for you to learn from everybody who doesn’t have these clearances. Because you’ll be thinking as you listen to them: ‘what would this man be telling me if he knew what I knew? Would he be giving me the same advice, or would it totally change his predictions and recommendations?’ You will deal with a person who doesn’t have those clearances only from the point of view of what you want him to believe and what impression you want him to go away with, since you’ll have to lie carefully to him about what you know. In effect, you will have to manipulate him. You’ll give up trying to assess what he has to say. The danger is, you will become something like a moron.”

Technology does not wait for morality and likewise morality has no effect on technology. The government is only too willing to use this asymmetry to take us a step further away from democracy. Social media that gives a voice to everyone and allows him or her to be their own content producer, challenging the entrenched orthodoxy of the established media changes all that. The threat of Edward Snowden typing 140 characters is very real indeed and should not be underestimated. The day after he joined the site, it was impossible to find a major news website that had not announced his Twitter profile. Snowden was not reported on, he was the reporter. Edward Snowden’s first tweet was a simple “can you hear me now?” The US government, the media and the world already know the answer.


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