5 Years After Snowden – ‘People Are Still Powerless, but Now They Are Aware’
In 2013, Edward Snowden became a household name after revealing the depths of global surveillance by the US and its closest allies, known as the Five Eyes. His allegations were backed by thousands of confidential documents that he stole from the NSA, where he worked as a contractor. At first, there was a significant uproar from people demanding that the governments be restrained. However, five years down the line, the abuses and intrusions he exposed haven’t been brought to an end. Instead, they’re growing bigger and more complicated.
Poor legislative action from governments
The leaked documents shone a light on deep and dark secrets held by the US, UK and other allied intelligence agencies. This was all the ammunition that opponents of excessive intelligence practices needed. The public, foreign governments, corporations and other victims of the surveillance were outraged and called for immediate action, with ample reason. Committees, debates and judiciary hearings soon followed, and we hoped for an end to the global surveillance and a tighter leash on intelligence agencies. We all honestly expected great results, especially after the courts ruled aspects of the global surveillance illegal and unconstitutional.
However, five years later, we are faced with a worsening situation thanks to negligible change in surveillance legislation and the approval of laws such as Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which allows for the continued monitoring of “non-US persons located outside the United States.” New legislation such as the end of net neutrality in the US has opened the door to new surveillance while creating loopholes to circumvent court orders.
NSA and CIA tactics
The NSA was the worst-hit by the Snowden leaks. The information provided insights into the inner mechanisms of the NSA, the tools it used, its modus operandi and more. The CIA wasn’t left unscathed, either, with revelations about its operations and reach. Nevertheless, many outsiders still have little understanding of the organizations and, in particular, the differences in how they operate.
The NSA is primarily a hands-off operation relying on aggressive hacking and widespread network intrusions for its surveillance actions. On the other hand, the CIA takes a more direct approach, relying heavily on field agents and targeted hacking for surveillance. To protect yourself against NSA attacks, you need to improve your network security by using tools and protocols that guarantee your online privacy and anonymity, such as a VPN with sophisticated encryption. In addition, you need an understanding of how to protect yourself against profiling, social engineering, tailgating and other techniques that field agents employ if you wish to protect yourself against the CIA.
What power do we have as the public?
In the face of it all, it might seem as though we are completely powerless against the government and the ISPs that must do the authorities’ bidding. But thanks to the revelations made by Snowden and other whistleblowers, we are aware of the abuses committed by government agencies and other parties, their capabilities, the extent of the damage they inflict and the degree of our own vulnerability. In the immortal words of Snowden himself, “The government and corporate sector preyed on our ignorance. But now we know. People are aware now. People are still powerless to stop it, but we are trying. The revelations made the fight more even.” Information empowers the people. So while we fight for reforms, we can take proper action to guard ourselves against privacy breaches. Five years later, what we did not gain in legal infrastructure is made up in mass knowledge. Now we know what we must do to defend ourselves.
How to fight mass surveillance
The worst aspect of mass surveillance is that it is indiscriminate, meaning that anyone could become a target. It is imperative that we remain vigilant in protecting our internet freedoms. That is especially so considering the extent to which we rely on the internet for our daily lives.
One of the best ways to protect your data security is with privacy tools. Always choose the most trustworthy and, when necessary, combine more than one to make sure nothing falls through the cracks. For instance: Use Tor and a VPN, pay with Bitcoin or cash, search with DuckDuckGo, use an encrypted IM service such as WhatsApp, install a browser extension that protects your privacy, and limit the number of networked devices you have at home, among other steps. This guarantees that you have multiple layers of security working together to protect your identity and information online from being accessed, monitored or abused by unauthorized parties.
The bottom line
As sad as it sounds, government-sanctioned information security is still far from a reality, given how much the government has to gain from watching your every move. As it stands, if you’re seeking privacy protection, you will have to do it yourself. Read up on the Snowden leaks, polish up on new network vulnerabilities and attacks, and develop an understanding of security tools and how to use them effectively. While we wait for legal action, we should be proactive in our own defense. Because five years after Snowden, our fight has only just begun.
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