June Fifth: “Edward Snowden Day” Except Not. Yet.

By Lambert Strether of Corrente.

Paul Jay of The Real News Network interviews Michael Ratner on the revelations of Edward Snowden; the first Guardian story ran on June 5. Ratner is President Emeritus of the Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) in New York and Chair of the European Center for Constitutional and Human Rights in Berlin. Ratner is currently a legal adviser to Wikileaks and Julian Assange. Here’s the video:

More at The Real News

June 5. Has it really been such a short time? Or so long a time? Ratner explains:

[W]e’re recording this on June 5, which is Thursday, which is the day the first article based on Snowden documents appeared in The Guardian. .. And it’s also the second anniversary or coming on the second anniversary of two years of Julian Assange in the Ecuadorian embassy. That’ll be June 19. So the anniversaries in June… are quite important.

Let’s go back to the first story, the first story of June 5, the work of Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras. They had gotten to Hong Kong a few days before that. They met Edward Snowden. … They met with him on June 3. And they do the first story, which I said is a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court order, secret court order, concerning Verizon in particular, but saying that Verizon had to turn over all of the metadata on our phone calls in the United States and elsewhere–basically, how long, what cell towers they’re from, all kinds of information. And from that, of course, they make a tree of everybody, who’s in contact with who, and they get a huge range of information about it. That was the first story, a big story, because it was a misinterpretation, in many of our views, by the secret court of the FISA powers, of the Foreign Intelligence Act powers. And it also showed just how pervasive the surveillance is.

Second day, June 6, which will be an anniversary of, on this Friday, the day after tomorrow, they expose the PRISM story. That’s the NSA has direct access, through our computers, through Google, Facebook, Apple, and other U.S. internet giants, to data held by those internet giants, our actual content of our data–my emails, etc., another huge story.

This year, Edward Snowden Day, June 5, was also #ResetTheNet Day, of which Edward Snowden wrote:

Today, we can begin the work of effectively shutting down the collection of our online communications, even if the US Congress fails to do the same. That’s why I’m asking you to join me on June 5th for Reset the Net, when people and companies all over the world will come together to implement the technological solutions that can put an end to the mass surveillance programs of any government. …

We have the technology, and adopting encryption is the first effective step that everyone can take to end mass surveillance. That’s why I am excited for Reset the Net — it will mark the moment when we turn political expression into practical action, and protect ourselves on a large scale.

Join us on June 5th, and don’t ask for your privacy. Take it back.”

The #ResetTheNet Privacy Pack has a lot of helpful suggestions for keeping your browsing, chats, phone conversations, texting, and mail private. On some of these, I have the best protection of all: I don’t own a smartphone, and I don’t text or chat. For mail, I’m waiting for ProtonMail to spin up. For browsing, I’ve installed HTTPS Everywhere. But I’ve also installed the Tor Browser Bundle, which is a Tor-enabled Firefox clone, and it comes as a very pleasant surprise: It’s fast enough! The first time I tried browsing through Tor, a couple of years ago, the experience was frustratingly slow. Now, the performance is fine. I wouldn’t want to watch movies with it, but then I watch movies hardly at all, and then not online (I like movie-theatre popcorn). Why the performance is better, I don’t know, but I’m guessing more nodes. Now, I know these technologies are not perfect, but we have to start somewhere! I also feel, just as with “home protection,” it’s useful to deter amateurs and the incompetent, even if the real pros can do whatever they want. And readers, if you have thoughts on specific technologies, please share in comments. (ProtonMail, for example, is not the only Swiss or EU company in the secure email business, so it would be nice to know if any of you have experience with such a service.)

The savage irony of the post-Snowden era is that so many of us experienced computers as freedom; I know I did. Before I got my Mac 512KE, I was never able to finish any writing I started, unless it was very short; the sequence of type- or handwritten pages defeated me; I’d start polishing in the middle, and get lost. Along came the Mac, with an outliner — fruit, like the Mac itself, of Doug Engelbart’s NLS system, developed at Stanford — and for the first time I could put down my thoughts in any order, then re-arrange them. The day I installed Acta, I wrote an article. And then I wrote another one, just to show. Joyful liberation! Total empowerment.

Or so it seemed at the time. Now, almost thirty years later, I’m still using a Mac, and a time traveller from 1986 would see very few changes… Except for the new port and the new antenna that connect to something called the Internet (not part of Engelbart’s vision, although hypertext was), and the concomitant complete destruction of our right to be secure in our “persons, houses, [digital] papers, and [digital] effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” So, on the one hand, thirty years of minor incremental changes (despite the hype) in the user interface, with files, disks, and most software that would be instantly recognizable to a time traveler from the 80s, and on the other, incredible “advances” in the ability of secret institutions to capture data off our machines, store it, relate it to other data, analyze it, and make whatever use of it the powers that be may think best, under secret law. Not liberating. Not empowering. Funny, life. Makes you wonder what was really going on. Ratner continues:

[M]y message for people is–it’s the same message Mother Jones had: organize, organize, and take your actions, and just–you know, you assume you take whatever security you can, but in the end you don’t know whether your best friend is an informant. … But in the end, they cannot stop the inevitability of people moving toward the kind of change and revolution that will make their lives better. …

But the story I want to tell–. In Berlin, I was with a group of representatives from a group called the landless peasants movement of–the landless movement of Brazil, MST, a million and a half people. They’re fighters to get the land back for these million and a half or two million displaced or impoverished farmers who have no land. And I talked to them for many hours. And at the end they started asking me all about Julian Assange, WikiLeaks, Chelsea Manning, Ed Snowden, and they went on for 20 minutes about it. And I said, why do you have so much interest in this? You’re the landless peasants movement of Brazil; you know, you’re fighting, you know, to get land for the peasants, etc. What’s your interest in WikiLeaks, in Julian, Ed, etc.? And they said to me as strongly as I’ve ever heard, they said, all of this work, all of this material from Snowden, from WikiLeaks, from Chelsea Manning, it’s a blow against imperialism..

And in the end, that’s what you have to look at….

Well, I don’t know if I’m as optimistic as Ratner, or pessimistic. I’m not a “historical inevitability” kind of guy, because we had some very bad experiences with that idea in the Twentieth Century. (Or, if you like, in the Nineteenth, where, under the doctrine of “Manifest Destiny,” we took up The White Man’s Burden in the Phillipines.)

However, I do believe that Ratner and the Brazilians are right about the nature of the fight, and the role surveillance plays in it. Matt Stoller has a wonderful post on this topic. Surveillance is, as it turns out, as American as apple pie:

Think about it this way. Slaves were controlled in a largely totalitarian society, even before the American Revolution, and this lasted until the Civil War. This society involved radical restrictions on peoples’ ability to read, travel, work for pay, trade, own property, marry, and not be physically and mentally abused. At the core of slavery was an aggressive need for control, it was the mother of all totalitarian surveillance cultures. This surveillance didn’t just involve slaves, but surveillance of those who sought to free slaves via such institutions as the Underground Railroad.

But political surveillance, it’s important to remember, is part of the fabric of American culture, and always has been.

And, as both today’s optimists and pessimist know, the slave power and its surveillance state lost. The harder they come…

So get your privacy pack and install it now!


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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. ambrit

    It has been argued that the War Between the States was primarily between the Agricultural Elites, who depended upon slaves for productive power, and the newfangled Industrial Elites, who depended more on mechanical power and wage slaves for production. I have not read about any civil wars prior to the American one where slavery was explicitly expunged. Production in those earlier periods was still possible with legal slaves. The Industrial Revolution made the demise of large scale slavery virtually certain; legal slaves were no longer essential, and, compared to mechanical innovations and wage slaves, prohibitively expensive. The Industrial wage slaves existed under a no less oppressive surveillance system. This time, overseers did not wield whips, but pink slips. Finally, in the old days, a slave could run away, as the ad above testifies. Abolitionists could and did assist in that running. The critical item needed was a place to run away to. Today, where do we run? We are now living in a Phillip K Dick novel; Flow My Tears…

    1. Jim Haygood

      ‘Industrial wage slaves existed under a no less oppressive surveillance system.’

      No need to use the past tense of ‘exist.’ With the progressive income tax, chattel slavery became obsolete. Now the human livestock can move around the global plantation all they want, but the fat garden hose of withholding taxes just keeps on flowing.

  2. Ned Ludd

    “but in the end you don’t know whether your best friend is an informant”. Or will become an informant.

    Three years after the Eugene fires, investigators finally got their break: A sinewy, tattooed heavy-metal guitarist named Jake Ferguson agreed to cooperate and donned recording wires to meet with other activists.

    Soon, the secrets of the underground network thought responsible for the attacks began to be exposed.

    Ferguson was a high-profile participant in some of these crimes, according to court documents and court statements by defense attorneys with access to unreleased documents. […]

    Most of those accused now face spending decades in prison if convicted. Some could wind up with life sentences if found guilty at trial.

    The film “If a Tree Falls: A Story of the Earth Liberation Front” shows how today’s ally becomes tomorrow’s criminal co-defendant.

    Surveillance allows the state to undermine any attempt to organize. Instead of infiltrating a group, the government can find people who can be flipped and then place them under duress. I think they flipped Ferguson by threatening to take away his children.

  3. PopeRatzo

    People who don’t see the obvious connection between the Surveillance State and increased income inequality just aren’t paying attention.

    None of the other big issues can get better until we straighten out privacy and personal rights.

  4. jgordon

    I’m pretty grateful to Mr. Snowden; thanks to his revelations I’ve been able to convince some persons previously skeptical of my views on the malignancy and inherent evil of government. And along with that my views on the collapse of society and what we should do to prepare for it have been given a new measure of credibility as well, even though they are not directly related. This is why it’s important to realize that any power ceded to government absolutely will be used in the worst possible against the citizens, whenever it is in the most marginal of interests for government to do so. By the way, government and corporations chartered by government are basically the same entity; which controls which is sort of beside the point.

    1. Ned Ludd

      Unfortunately, Silicon Valley is now portrayed as an unwilling and unwitting victim who is shocked! shocked! that mass surveillance is occurring. Technology companies are being recast as heroes who will protect us from the big bad government.

      And in their calls for reform, Greenwald and Snowden fail to consider that, under the current system of power, elites and billionaire oligarchs will continue to maintain control over any reformed system.

      I don’t understand who [Greenwald] thinks will run this “more sensible surveillance system” in a militarized state hellbent on “projecting dominance” in every part of the world, and protecting an economic-social system based on vast and brutal inequality. […]

      And this system of power does not just include “the radically corrupted political class in DC,” as Greenwald rightly describes it (in a quote one of the commenters here pointed out). It also, most emphatically, includes figures like Pierre Omidyar — billionaires who use their money and power and connections to manipulate governments, society and events, as far they are able, toward the perpetuation and expansion of elite interests. Who does Greenwald think is corrupting the “radically corrupted political class?” …

      You can root out the entire “corrupted political class in DC” today, and you will still end up with another corrupted political class to take its place — because that’s the only kind of political class that will be produced by the wider system of power, which is dominated not by politicians but by corporate interests and oligarchs. If you support and celebrate the oligarchs who perpetuate this system, then you can be sure you will never see any genuine change or reform.

    2. LifelongLib

      While you’re persuading people of the “inherent evil of government”, why not toss in the inherent evil of roads, schools, the post office, social security…all the results of government. Government is in part one of the ways that people accomplish together what cannot be done individually. Our current government is corrupt because some people have made huge efforts to make it so. It is no more inherently evil than is any other collective human activity.

  5. mellon

    What the Snowden affair should be teaching Americans, is how important it is to become far more technically literate than we currently are. Because the default of the technologies we currently use on the net is to not be secure at all. So, we’re in a sort of transition period were we have all this technology but we’re still kind of unaware of how important it is to keep it on a short leash in our lives.

    I think many people are cutting back on internet and phone usage now, because its creepy how little privacy we have with them, and maybe that’s a good thing.

    I heard the other day that if the Internet was considered a drug it would be a very dangerous one because of its effects on people’s physical activity levels are decreasing our health. So, maybe its a good thing if people get away from technology a bit.

    1. rur42

      “I heard the other day that if the Internet was considered a drug it would be a very dangerous one because of its effects on people’s physical activity levels are decreasing our health. So, maybe its a good thing if people get away from technology a bit.”

      Welp it was not so in my case: Bladder cancer. Transurethral Resection (TUR) twice w/BCG, cancer still present. Doc said remove the bladder. 2nd opinion likewise….but suggested one other remote possibility: another TUR w/ BCG/Inteferon combo treatment.

      Insurance said no way.

      Appealed w/help of google, insurance said ok. Last checkup last week, after a round of surgery, BCG/interferon (6) & a round of maintenance (3). No cancer present. More maintenance to come. Internet has been very helpful in this whole treatment/ recovery process.

  6. JCC

    @mellon: “What the Snowden affair should be teaching Americans is how important it is to become far more technically literate than we currently are.”

    As an IT Security tech, I couldn’t agree more. I put up a comment earlier that alluded to this very problem, i.e., that most don’t understand that even the privacy pack is full of holes (and unreliable if used incorrectly, let alone using the default settings on installation), particularly you are being singled out for direct surveillance by the State (or a sophisticated bad guy).

    Also, without the knowledge of how some of this software is designed to be used, it may very easily give one a false sense of security.

    (For some reason, I’m really not sure why, the comment disappeared)

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