Privacy Since Snowden
Former US intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden’s revelations of massive government surveillance upended rosy assumptions about just how free and secure the Internet and telecommunication networks really are, sparking a global debate about online privacy. But, a year later, meaningful reforms have not been implemented.
LONDON – A year has passed since the American former intelligence contractor Edward J. Snowden began revealing the massive scope of Internet surveillance by the US National Security Agency. His disclosures have elicited public outrage and sharp rebukes from close US allies like Germany, upending rosy assumptions about how free and secure the Internet and telecommunications networks really are. Singlehandedly, Snowden has changed how people regard their phones, tablets, and laptops, and sparked a public debate about the protection of personal data. What his revelations have not done is bring about significant reforms.
To be sure, US President Barack Obama, spurred by an alliance between civil-society organizations and the technology industry, has taken some action. In a January speech, and an accompanying presidential policy directive, Obama ordered American spies to recognize that “all persons should be treated with dignity and respect, regardless of their nationality or wherever they might reside, and that all persons have legitimate privacy interests in the handling of their personal information.”
Some specific advances, unprecedented in the shadowy world of intelligence agencies, have accompanied this rhetorical commitment to privacy. When technology companies sued the government to release details about intelligence requests, the Obama administration compromised, supporting a settlement that allows for more detailed reporting. Under this agreement, companies have the option of publishing figures on data requests by intelligence agencies in ranges of 250 or 1,000, depending on the degree of disaggregation of the types of orders.