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Edward Snowden: Balancing Privacy, Justice and Security

“I’m willing to sacrifice all of that because I can’t in good conscience allow the U.S. government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building,” Snowden told the Guardian.

On February 21, 2013, I received an e-mail from the Curriculum Coordinator, United States Telecommunications Training Institute, admitting me to attend a USTTI Cyber Security/ICT policy training sequence which, among several other courses, had US Cyber security Coordination sponsored by the US Department of Homeland Security(DHS). It was supposed to be a 3-week tuition-free training. However, due to some factors at that time, I could not make it down to Washington to attend the program. Therefore, even though the invitation was one of the most important basic steps for the program, I knew I still had to do some background research on the training, which I did effectively.

The ever-increasing proliferation of technologies making use of the internet, coupled with the number of applications relying on such access, must have compelled the United State Intelligence Community (IC) to invest so much on Cyber security capacity development and programs through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the National Security Agency (NSA). Investing heavily in these programs was expected to facilitate the development of strategies and initiatives to ensure the integrity of its cyberspace, as well as provide the necessary leadership and guidance both within and outside its territory. However, cyber security threats are serious, urgent, and honest indeed!


Over the past few weeks, Edward Snowden has become one of the most-discussed personalities in the internet-related industry. A conservative man in some ways, he was relatively unknown until he outed himself as the person who leaked to the press that the National Security Agency (NSA) was secretly monitoring citizens' and foreigners' phone and Internet activities. Before Snowden revealed what was described as the most significant intelligence leak in NSA history, the Washington Post reported that Snowden worked at an NSA Threat Operations Center in Hawaii, one of several such facilities tasked with detecting threats to government computer systems. He had previously worked for the CIA.

New Story? Maybe

Honestly, the NSA revelation was not something entirely new to most people in the industry! It will be an error to imagine that the US government lacks a system to conduct such surveillance or failing to put in place a mechanism to secure its nation, with its strong economy, powerful technology, and determination to protect its citizens.

However, the significant difference this time is that the report comes from someone who was not only a part of the system but was 'the system himself'. If we assume his story to be accurate, the fact that the account is connected to his name and face has kept the story alive and may help generate the debate needed to ensure more countries take a stand about privacy, Internet freedom, and the fundamental liberties of their people.

In cases like this, it is only natural for questions to immediately spring up about his motivation, his personal life, and background before one can then think of the effects and implications of his actions or inaction.

The media, most especially the Washington Post and Guardian, have carefully analyzed and reported reactions of several countries, such as the governments of the US, Hongkong, Russia, Ecuador, Venezuela, and Iceland.

Also, there were reports about his alleged girlfriend, Lindsay Mills, and previously known whistleblowers such as Wikileaks founder Julian Assange and others. However, It is almost impossible for those monitoring these unending events not to question what will happen to him eventually.

Snowden pleaded he didn't want the story to be about him but about what the US government was doing and if anyone still needed to know what would happen to this man who had continued to build so much sympathy for himself from all corners of the globe, we can rest assured the re-occurring word will be "justice." However, individual judgment will always depend on which angle of the PRISM Snowden is viewed.

Way forward

The NSA revelations are coming at a time when there is an urgent need to address issues that border on cyber attacks, surveillance, and censorship in several countries around the world. Hence the story could stimulate the quality debates needed to shape the destiny of policies about content privacy and Internet freedom.

In our track at the NIGF2013 on policy and regulatory model for the internet, stakeholders recognised that regulation is generally an inter-play of interests at the levels of government, the industry, and the users. In most parts of the world, stakeholders usually accept that regulation is desirable, particularly for internet infrastructure; however, the law must ensure a level playing ground and protection of all interests concerned. Extreme policy drives or what we may call over-regulation is generally a manifestation of fear, and fear can only be removed through knowledge.

At times like this, the way forward is for all stakeholders to work together and think of what is good for the country through an honest debate that will balance privacy and security without compromising the nation's security. The informed decision will serve not only as a model for the US government but will also shape the actions of other countries. The system may need a lift from its current state, and the Edward Snowden revelations may have provided the needed opportunity to redefine the current internet freedom landscape.

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