Edward Snowden is runner-up for Time's person of the year, and other NSA spying news

For leaking documents that have revealed that the NSA is spying on just about everybody in just about every conceivable way, Edward Snowden is the runner-up in Time Magazine‘s annual coronation of Person of the Year. (The magazine has blessed Pope Francis as No. 1.)

Snowden, of course, is the former tech contractor who leaked U.S. government documents that have illuminated the scope of the massive surveillance programs the NSA is carrying out in the name of fighting terrorism. The programs involve the systemic collection of technology and telecom companies’ user data and communications, including without court approval or the companies’ knowledge. Among those whose information was collected: foreign terrorism suspects, Americans and others who were not suspects, world leaders.

In an interview with Time, Snowden — who is wanted by the U.S. government and has been granted asylum in Russia — explains why he chose his path: “The NSA is surely not the Stasi, but we should always remember that the danger to ­societies from security services is not that they will spontaneously decide to embrace mustache twirling and jackboots to bear us bodily into dark places, but that the slowly shifting foundation of policy will make it such that mustaches and jackboots are discovered to prove an operational advantage toward a necessary purpose.” In October in front of supporters who gave him an award, he said: “This is about a trend in the relationship between the governing and governed in America.”

What are the effects of the Snowden leaks? Senators and others have accused him of treason. But his defenders are steadfast. Julian Assange of WikiLeaks fame said, according to Time: “We have shifted from a small group of experts understanding what was going on to broad public awareness of the reality of NSA mass surveillance.” And Laura Poitras, one of the first journalists to report (with Glenn Greenwald) on the Snowden leaks, said: “What Snowden did was really empowering. I mean, think of all the people who have security clearance. … They are starting to question their belief in the job they were asked to do.”

By the way, the most recent revelation in the spying saga comes by way of the Washington Post, which reports that the NSA (and its British equivalent, the GCHQ) uses Google cookies — those helpful little tools that allow advertisers to track people’s Internet comings and goings — to help decide whom to track and hack. This new report comes on the heels of another story this week that the NSA is also looking for terrorist activity in the world of online gaming — something columnist Michelle Quinn says makes our spy agencies look “ridiculous and frankly scarier.”

 

Photo: Edward Snowden, center, meets with activists at an airport in Moscow in July 2013. (ITAR-TASS/Zuma/MCT)

Levi Sumagaysay Levi Sumagaysay (3571 Posts)

Levi Sumagaysay is editor of the combined SiliconBeat and Good Morning Silicon Valley. She also blogs and is the online producer for SiliconValley.com, the Mercury News tech website. Email: lsumagaysay (at) bayareanewsgroup (dot-com).