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Wednesday, June 26, 2013

On Snowden and cyber oppression

by John MacBeath Watkins

Edward Snowden went first to China, then to Russia, carrying with him a laptop which he claims has on it everything you need to know for cyber oppression. The move would make more sense if he wanted to spread the knowledge of how to do this rather than stop it being done.

He seems to have had no plan for his conduct after releasing the information. Yes, there has been a great deal of progress since the the fall of the Soviet Union, but neither country is a model of freedom. Snowden appears to have left Hong Kong unmolested, but at present, he appears to be in Moscow with a laptop containing a hell of a lot of top secret stuff. It would be a great prize for Russian spycraft to know how the NSA looks for terrorists, and a great prize for the KGB's successors to know how to connect the dots between dissidents.

If the Russians copy what's on that laptop, the results for Russian dissidents could be dire, for the same reason Snowden fears the NSA using those methods in America.

We needed to know about the NSA program, but it would have been much better if this had been done as an act of principled civil disobedience, where the actor is not just willing, but eager to have his day in court and demonstrate the injustice of how the government is acting. Instead, Snowden stole the secrets, revealed the secrets, and fled to nations that compete with America and have a history of spying on it.

I suspect Snowden is a naif rather than a knave, but either way, his actions could do great harm. Perhaps he will leave Moscow without the Russians copying the contents of his laptop. Perhaps he won't be pressured into revealing whatever encryption keys protect the information on it. But a wiser man who cared about civil liberties would not be acting as Snowden is acting.


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