The fight against novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is going to take away the little civil liberties that people of the world already have, this is according to Edward Snowden.
Most people know Edward Snowden, however, if you don’t know him, let me briefly bring you up to speed.
Edward Snowden was a National Security Agency (NSA) of America contractor. Essentially he was a spy subcontracted by the American (USA) Central Intelligence Agency better known as CIA. Online sources indicate that when it came to computers, he was “genius among geniuses” who created a widely implemented backup system for the NSA and often pointed out security flaws to the agency. His sharp brain made his supervisors give him ” full administrator privileges with virtually unlimited access to NSA data”.
Then came May 2013, he fled USA after releasing classified information showing USA mass surveillance programs that went against the laws of the country. Snowden opened the world’s eyes to what was happening.
After 9/11 USA had implemented sweeping mass surveillance program that virtually ‘no one could hide from”.
My Comment: Governments have used crisis after crisis to increase their hold on power. Some are manufactured. Kenya’s 9/11 was the Garissa University attack in 2015. After that, we’ve seen the introduction of KICA Act, Computer Misuse and Cyber Crime Act, Tax Procedures Act; these laws some of which were at first defeated in court have crept back through presidential veto power and Kenyans have lost privacy.
It is a GESTAPO
What Impact did Snowden’s revelations have?
Before 2013 we thought we were safe and private from the government’s eyes, but Snowden revealed that was not so, our phones are the tracking device both legally and illegally; Snowden told us that Google was never going to delete any data it has about us.
Imagine all your search inputs, clicks, what you type on the computer keyboard is stored and never erased.
Most of the data that is harvested was previously said to be used for marketing and aligning adverts to our preferences, however, Snowden revealed the data can be used to eliminate opponents either by blackmailing them or killing them.
“…all of us collectively have been forced into a global sabbatical around the world, an extraordinarily rare event in history…the system is so stressed, the leadership so clearly out of its league…we have the ability to make revolutionary changes…these systems (the functioning of the world) if we do not change them will not simply be used to monitor our health, they are going to make decisions for us on an automated basis to control our lives to the nitty-gritty. We are at this moment of extraordinary fear being asked to make a decision on how the future will look like. If we do not, it will be made for us” – Edward Snowden.
How does this fit to the Covid-19 agenda?
Seven years after Snowden’s revelations, he had an interview with Vice Founder Shane Smith where he was asked his opinion on the measures taken by the USA government (in extension govts all over the world) vis a vis civil liberties.
What is civil liberty?
1. Civil liberty is the state of being subject only to laws established for the good of the community, especially with regard to freedom of action and speech.
2. Civil liberties are guarantees and freedoms that liberal governments commit not to abridge, either by legislation or judicial interpretation, without due process.
The former spy warns that the measures taken by governments are “building an architecture of oppression”
The interviewer, Shane Smith had observed that the coronavirus infection might come in waves and that there might be a need for more severe measures to combat the virus.
“…and so, all of these measures are going to get more severe”, to which the 36-year-old former spy noded, then the interviewer asks, “And what then happens to civil liberties, to privacy rights, to democracy?”
“I mean, this is really the central question of this moment in history. What we see is that everyone is fearful and hopeless and so worried about today that we have really stopped thinking about what tomorrow will look like as a result of the decisions that we take today. We’ve seen in countries like Taiwan and South Korea and spreading also into more western countries, and of course in the United States, where it has began as well; the tracking and monitoring of the movements, of the whole of the human populations through the movements of our phones. And it is, I think, something that should raise cause concern, because when we talk about the applications, and am sure we will, they are saying they are using it for contact tracing. This person gets sick, where did they go? Who may they have come into contact with precisely so that they can produce these kind of text messages that you describe? On its face, it seems like it might be a good idea. There is, of course, a natural presumed benefit here. And yet this level of contact tracing, this method of contact tracing does not really work on a pandemic scale.
Interviewer: You know, we are declaring, you know, various states of emergencies here and there, but these have sweeping powers.
Snowden: What is being built is the architecture of oppression.
Interviewer: So when we look at, you know, Taiwan, Singapore, countries like now America, there’s all this data being collected. How are the government – so when, in South Korea, I get a text saying’ o you met Joe Blow (for example). He might be infected. You should sequester yourself for 14 days. How are they getting that data?
Snowden: (Laughs) That’s a good question. I mean, that’s really the one that should make everyone just look at their phone and, you know, sort of raise an eyebrow. There are a number of ways that you can track the location of someone through their phone. There are these cellphone towers themsleves, but there’s also the wireless network that you are connected to. And then what other wireless networks around you that you’re not connected to –these you can think of as that wireless networks your phone can hear. And so these wireless network identifiers are then collected and are mapped out against GPS, and then they know if you can see mom’s Wi-fi, and neigbour Ted’s Wi-fi, and the library Wi-fi all at the same time, you have to be within range of these things. It becomes a proxy for location. Now that we know all of our phones can and are being tracked at all times, just by being turned on — The phone companies have it at a bare minimum. Facebook, Google and Apple probably have it. And many many other companies you’ve never even heard of that run ad networks. What these really means in a France or a United States is they go, “well, look, we are aware of privacy concerns, so what we are going to do is we’re going to depersonalize this information, we are going to ‘anonymize it’, and we are not going to look at individuals. We’re going to look at the flows of movement of these phones, right? we’re not looking at one phone. We’re looking at the aggregate movements of phones”. The problem is, if you’re tracking one infection or 100 infections, but you’re tracking 100,000 infections, contact tracing quickly becomes useless. And more, the precision of location information is either so rough that it is largely useless, which is the case if we’re talking about the cellphone networks, the cellphone towers you’re near to the very precise location information, in which case this information when you are applying it at scale, cannot be anonymized in a meaningful way. And then there’s the big question of, well, where does all that information go? How is it controlled? Who’s it being used –it’s information about me. I should have some influence over it. I should have control over it. But unfortunately in the United States, to a large degree, you don’t. There’s no basic privacy law in the United States. We need to be able to make sure that the brakes that are being pumped are on the pandemic rather than on our society.
Near the end of the 23 minutes interview, the former spy warns that ‘the virus will pass”, but he decisions, which mostly are to do with eroding civil liberties “will last”.
“The problem with data protection laws is that it presumes that the data collection was okay” -Edward Snowden
Here is the full video for you to watch the interview for yourself.