Edward Snowden was working as an employee of the CIA in 2013 when he rose to fame for releasing some highly classified information to the public, earning the name of “whistle-blower” and quickly having his American passport revoked. Since then, he has been living in Russia, is now married and published a memoir just a month ago.
Because of his book, his interviews have surfaced on the internet and have been once again sparking controversy on the topic of public surveillance and the privacy of our data.
He says that the main feature of the recent technological shift is the switch from laptops to mobile phones, because we essentially carry them with us everywhere. This means that a whole lot of new information is available and ready for corporations and governments to use, without us even realising it. The other difference compared to before is that information is being kept by cellular and tech companies indefinitely, to be used for commercial of surveillance purposes.
This is because storing data is cheaper than ever before, and companies and governments can now afford to store it all in what is called “bulk collection”, a euphemism for “mass surveillance” according to Snowden.
This topic goes hand in hand with the controversy surrounding Mark Zuckerberg’s private meetings at Facebook being recorded and leaked to the public. In the meetings (that date back to July), the founder and CEO of Facebook is asked about Sen. Warren, who’s been fighting to break up massive tech companies as such as the one the one which owns Facebook, WhatsApp, Instagram and other smaller companies. He discusses how Sen. Warren’s intentions are a mere inconvenience to the company, and says he would be prepared to pursue legal action against the US government if Warren were to get elected. Zuckerberg also seems convinced that, were the company to have a lawsuit against the government, they would not lose it.
These two incidents got me thinking about how much power these companies have. We hear about it a lot, but we don’t often realise when doing something, just how many other people know about it.
For a very long time I thought privacy was simply not an issue to me: I thought that I had nothing to hide, and that it was somewhat helpful to keep track of people’s business in the name of public security. So what if Facebook had the location of a criminal? It could be useful to the police and there was nothing wrong with that.
What’s ethically dubious and resembles to me Foucault’s Panopticon more and more, is that companies do not keep data of suspects, but everybody’s data and for as long as they like. The striking difference to me is that we no longer own our own data. We can be as minimalist and technology-free as we will, but even owning a phone, having a bank account or signing up for a gym means that companies are literally taking our information, keeping it, not telling us its purpose, and likely using it to sell us something or selling it to parties who wish to sell us something.
What is more horrifying: a part from Ms Warren and few other politicians around the world, governments are generally not concerned with these unethical practices because they benefit from them in more than one way. Snowden himself says that the information he leaked in 2013 also compromised governments who knew that both legality and ethics were being breached but protected the interests of companies instead of people.
Jokes about Mark Zuckerberg secretly being a lizard are easy to make, but if we think not so much about how much power this man has, but how much his interests and his decisions affects everything we do, then we realise that information on ourselves is just not ours to keep any more.