Surveillance with Edward Snowden | EFF30 Fireside Chat

Check out the EFF episode page & show notes

Key Takeaways

  • Surveillance done by companies is often shared with government agencies which creates an unholy alliance between corporate and government trackers
    • Companies build technologies that have surveillance built in and want to know everything you’re doing so that they can target you with ads
  • If you went to the hospital or your doctor, you wouldn’t want them selling your personal information to Nike so that they can sell you more shoes. But that’s exactly what’s happening with your online data:
    • “With all this data collection technology, everybody is using this very personal information they get to effectively build billboards outside your house” – Edward Snowden
  • It’s difficult to change laws around data and surveillance because the US political system is influenced mostly by economic elites (the wealthy, CEOs of companies, etc) or by large interests groups (lobbyists, corporate interest groups, etc)
    • “If you look at the history of US legislation the last decades, you’ll see it doesn’t really represent the public interest”Edward Snowden
  • Just because data collection and surveillance will become cheaper and more globally adopted as technology progresses, it doesn’t mean people should give up fighting for privacy rights. If you look at any area of privacy, you’ll find an organization fighting for better rights and a safer digital environment.
    • “Any one of us could do something if only we dare to try and sometimes the person that you’re waiting for is you” – Edward Snowden
  • Even if you have GPS, wifi, bluetooth, and location services turned off, it’s still possible to track your location. How?
    • When you call someone, you connect to the nearest cell phone tower and that cell phone tower enters you into a register and that data is shard upstream with other networks and data providers

Intro   

  • Edward Snowden (@Snowden) is an American whistleblower who copied and leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency (NSA) in 2013 when he was a Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) employee and subcontractor.
  • Host: Cindy Cohn (@EFF)

An Unholy Alliance

  • Surveillance done by companies is often shared with government agencies which creates an unholy alliance between corporate and government trackers
    • Companies build technologies that have surveillance built in and want to know everything you’re doing so that they can target you with ads
      • Governments love this because they can just go to a company to find out information about their citizens
  • If you went to the hospital or your doctor, you wouldn’t want them selling your personal information to Nike so that they can sell you more shoes. But that’s exactly what’s happening with your online data:
    • “With all this data collection technology, everybody is using this very personal information they get to effectively build billboards outside your house” – Edward Snowden

How The World Has Changed Since 2013

  • In 2013, Edward Snowden blew the whistle on government surveillance and leaked highly classified information from the National Security Agency
    • For instance, there was an intelligence-sharing partnership between Australia, Canada, New Zealand, the United Kingdom, and the United States
  • Since that leak, people around the world have become aware that their government is spying on them and collecting information on almost everything they do in the digital world
    • Since 2013, there’s been an increase in encryption tools such as Signal and more browsers are encrypting user data
      • “Nobody sells you a car without breaks, nobody should sell you a browser without security” – Cindy Cohn
  • The world is filled with trackers and surveillance that are constantly collecting data about you: your smartphone, automatic license plate recognition, shot spotters, security cameras, drones, and so on
    • This creates a problem because the more you’re able to surveil people, the more the police is able to ticket and harass people 

Phone Tracking Is Always On

  • Even if you have GPS, wifi, bluetooth, and location services turned off, it’s still possible to track your location. How?
    • When you call someone, you connect to the nearest cell phone tower and that cell phone tower enters you into a register and that data is shard upstream with other networks and data providers
      • “The phone globally knows where all phones are at all times, that’s how they can signal to each other wherever you are and location services doesn’t turn that off because it can’t turn that off” – Edward Snowden
        • There isn’t much that can be done to solve this from a technical perspective, but there is a lot that can be done from a legal aspect to protect your data and limit what the cell provider can do with your information

The Future of Data & Surveillance

  • There’s a lot of hard questions around data storage and usage
    • For instance, what do you do with people’s medical data about COVID vaccines and passports once things return back to normal?
  • It’s possible that in the future a drone can fly over a protest and identify the faces and social media accounts of every individual in the group which makes it easier than ever for retribution from the government if the government is against the protest
  • It’s difficult to change laws around data and surveillance because the US political system is influenced mostly by economic elites (like the CEOs of companies) or by large interests groups 
    • “If you look at the history of US legislation the last decades, you’ll see it doesn’t really represent the public interest”Edward Snowden
  • A better digital world will require activism by the people, changes in technology, and new legislation
    • Governments currently operate mass surveillance systems because it’s cheap and they aren’t being punished by the law for their actions–that needs to change

Fight The Good Fight

  • Just because data collection and surveillance will become cheaper and more globally adopted as technology progresses, it doesn’t mean people should give up fighting for privacy rights. If you look at any area of privacy, you’ll find an organization fighting for better rights and a safer digital environment.
    • Edward’s co-workers at the NSA didn’t do anything or speak out against the mass surveillance because they thought they didn’t have a voice, but Edward believed otherwise
      • “Any one of us could do something if only we dare to try and sometimes the person that you’re waiting for is you” – Edward Snowden
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Notes By Alex Wiec

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