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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 as a result of a combination of some factors at that time; I could not make it down to Washington to attend the program. Even though, the invitation was one of the most important basic step 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 amount of applications relying on such access, must have made 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). Obviously, investing heavily on these programs was expected to facilitate the development of strategies and initiatives to ensure integrity of its cyberspace, as well as provide the necessary leadership and guidance both within and outside its territory. Cyber security threats are serious, urgent and real 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 he revealed what was described as the biggest intelligence leak in NSA history, the Washington Post reported, Snowden worked at an NSA Threat Operations Center in Hawaii, one of several such facilities that are 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! I mean it will be an error to imagine the US government lack a system to conduct such surveillance or fail to put in place a mechanism to secure its nation, with its strong economy, powerful technology and determination to protect its citizens.

However, the major difference this time is that the report is coming from someone who was not only a part of the system, but was the system himself and if we assume his story to be true, the fact that the story is connected to his name and face has kept the story effectively alive, and may help generate the debate needed to ensure more countries take a stand about privacy, Internet freedom and basic 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 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 US, China, Hongkong, Russia, Ecuador, Venezuela and Iceland.

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

Snowden pleaded he doesn’t want the story to be about him but about what the US government is doing, and if anyone still needs to know what will happen to this man who has continued to build so much sympathy for himself from all corners of the globe, we can be rest assured the re-occurring word will be “justice”. However, individual judgement will always depend on which angle of the PRISM Snowden is viewed.

Way forward

The NSA revelations is coming at a time there is urgent need to address issues that border on cyber attacks, surveillance and censorship in several countries around the world, hence the story could help stimulate the quality debates needed to shape the destiny of policies about contents privacy and Internet freedom. While I accept that Snowden may be deemed to have violated his country’s law, his bravery for risking his life and reputation may have done our society a service by stimulating serious discussions in many countries about the extent to which surveillance is acceptable and perhaps a considerable curve of improvement to internet freedom may just begin from here.

In our track at the NIGF2013 on policy and regulatory model for the internet, it was recognised regulation is generally an inter-play of interests at the levels of government, the industry and the users. In most parts of the world, it is generally agreed regulation is desirable particularly for internet infrastructure; however, regulation 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, 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 security of the nation. The informed decision made will serve not only as a model for the US government, but I believe will also shape actions of other countries. Perhaps the system needs 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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