Snowden Warns Today’s Surveillance Technology Makes 2013 Look Like ‘Child’s Play’

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Yves here. The continued erosion of privacy due to better snooping continues apace. What is particularly depressing is the way consumers eager aid the surveillance state by, for instance, installing Ring cameras, whose output Amazon can share with police without owner consent, or using biometric IDs on phones.

In addition to this post, another ten-year commemoration of Snowden revelations:

By Julia Conley, a staff writer at CommonDreams. Originally published at CommonDreams

With this week marking 10 years since whistleblower Edward Snowden disclosed information to journalists about widespread government spying by United States and British agencies, the former National Security Agency contractor on Thursday joined other advocates in warning that the fight for privacy rights, while making several inroads in the past decade, has grown harder due to major changes in technology.

“If we think about what we saw in 2013 and the capabilities of governments today,” Snowden told The Guardian, “2013 seems like child’s play.”

Snowden said that the advent of commercially available surveillance products such as Ring cameras, Pegasus spyware, and facial recognition technology has posed new dangers.

As Common Dreams has reported, the home security company Ring has faced legal challenges due to security concerns and its products’ vulnerability to hacking, and has faced criticism from rights groups for partnering with more than 1,000 police departments—including some with histories of police violence—and leaving community members vulnerable to harassment or wrongful arrests.

Law enforcement agencies have also begun using facial recognition technology to identify crime suspects despite the fact that the softwareis known to frequently misidentify people of color—leading to the wrongful arrest and detention earlier this year of Randal Reid in Georgia, among other cases.

Last month, journalists and civil society groups called for a global moratorium on the sale and transfer of spyware like Pegasus, which has been used to target dozens of journalists in at least 10 countries.

Protecting the public from surveillance “is an ongoing process,” Snowden told The Guardian on Thursday. “And we will have to be working at it for the rest of our lives and our children’s lives and beyond.”

In 2013, Snowden revealed that the U.S. government was broadly monitoring the communications of citizens, sparking a debate over surveillance as well as sustained privacy rights campaigns from groups like Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and Fight for the Future.

“Technology has grown to be enormously influential,” Snowden told The Guardian on Thursday. “We trusted the government not to screw us. But they did. We trusted the tech companies not to take advantage of us. But they did. That is going to happen again, because that is the nature of power.”

Last month ahead of the anniversary of Snowden’s revelations, EFF notedthat some improvements to privacy rights have been made in the past decade, including:

  • The sunsetting of Section 215 of the PATRIOT Act, which until 2020 allowed the U.S. government to conduct a dragnet surveillance program that collected billions of phone records;
  • The emergence of end-to-end encryption of internet communications, which Snowden noted was “a pipe dream in 2013”;
  • The end of the NSA’s bulk collection of internet metadata, including email addresses of senders and recipients; and
  • Rulings in countries including South Africa and Germany against bulk data collection.
The group noted that privacy advocates are still pushing Congress to end Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which permits the warrantless surveillance of Americans’ communications, and “to take privacy seriously,” particularly as tech companies expand spying capabilities.”Despite calls over the last few years for federal legislation to rein in Big Tech companies, we’ve seen nothing significant in limiting tech companies’ ability to collect data… or regulate biometric surveillance, or close the backdoor that allows the government to buy personal information rather than get a warrant, much less create a new Church Committee to investigate the intelligence community’s overreaches,” wrote EFF senior policy analyst Matthew Guariglia, executive director Cindy Cohn, and assistant director Andrew Crocker. “It’s why so many cities and states have had to take it upon themselves to ban face recognition or predictive policing, or pass laws to protect consumer privacy and stop biometric data collection without consent.”

“It’s been 10 years since the Snowden revelations,” they added, “and Congress needs to wake up and finally pass some legislation that actually protects our privacy, from companies as well as from the NSA directly.”

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  1. Acacia

    Congress needs to wake up and finally pass some legislation that actually…

    Jaysus, there’s that trope again. Congresscritters are not asleep. They are wide awake, spook-adjacent, and doing exactly what the donors and spooks expect them to be doing.

    Maybe it’s the liberals who need to wake up?

    1. Samoan

      Common Dreams tends to do this in all their articles. They seem to half believe that if we just vote really hard for democrats that congress might finally get their act together! Spoiler: it won’t

    2. Kurtismayfield

      At this point thinking Congress will do anything for the American citizen sounds delusional. It is like they live in an alternate reality if they really think the government bought and sold off will do anything good for its citizens.

      1. pjay

        In the 1960s and 1970s there were notable members of Congress who actually resisted the National Security Establishment, sometimes effectively. Names like William Fulbright and Frank Church come to mind. Today, there are none – NONE. Am I wrong? Have I missed anyone? All of them are brainwashed, bribed, or blackmailed. I see no hope for any change from this direction. I would love for Common Dreams to tell me who our saviors are.

        1. Kurtismayfield

          We have no allies in a room full of insider traders and people being fed to do whatever the powerful want.

          1. Societal Illusions

            Which then leads to the “what next”? Forward momentum ends up in a bad place. Or worse place as we are already at bad.

            Options besides awaiting implosion or one step too far and an outright revolt?

    3. Hickory

      I actually found this quote even more frustrating:

      Protecting the public from surveillance “is an ongoing process,” Snowden told The Guardian on Thursday

      No one will protect us but ourselves. We either stand up or we don’t. Pretending some other force can do it for us is just confusing.

      1. Bsn

        Yes, we either stand up or don’t. But also, hit them in their wallet, the ballot box is pointless. Don’t buy a cell phone, don’t buy a surveillance door bell, don’t buy a “smart” car, etc. Actions do speak louder than words and I can attest that many of my friends know I never had a cell phone. It inspires conversations and comments quite often. No one’s tossing their mobile into the Thames, but people are doubting more and more the concept “But I have nothing to hide”.

  2. H. Toin

    Here in France a law is going through Parliament at this very moment authorizing the police to remotely switch on and record cameras and microphones on any objects (phones, computers, watches, tvs, whatever). The aim is to facilitate enquiries into potential terrorist acts, but of course mission creep will happen.
    When a police genetic database was created years ago, it was only meant to contain sexual offenders’ DNA. As of today, a third of the French population have their DNA in this database (because you’re now swabbed for any misdemeanour however small, and all victims are in it too “for verification purposes”).

      1. vao

        The refusal of any kind of “biological sampling” is punished with one year jail and a €15000 fine (French penal procedure code 705-56 II).

        1. vao

          Sorry, it is 706-56. If the person who refuses DNA swabs is a suspect who ends up being found guilty of a crime, the fine and jail term double. If they attempt to falsify the DNA sample, the fine and jail term triple.

          Relatives of a victim may opt out of the DNA swab. The victim or their relatives may demand the deletion of their DNA records in the DNA database once the investigations regarding identification are completed.

          Basically, if you are a suspect or a victim, you cannot escape the DNA swab.

  3. digi_owl

    What is interesting is that he raised a stink because he discovered that his employer, NSA, was spying on fellow Americans. If not for that he would likely still be happily spying on the world for USA.

    1. Michael Fiorillo

      True, but would you prefer to know what Snowden revealed, or not? If you’re waiting for the morally pure political actor, don’t hold your breath.

    2. BeliTsari

      The notion that Booz Allen Hamilton Holding Corporation was doing what “The President’s Analyst,” speculated decades earlier, is kinda what WOKE actually meant (before, it too was spun 180° weaponized & pointed into our faces, by their Resistance™) I’m not seeing many of our few remaining journalists reviewing, “Reality” & I’m not, in the least surprised, it didn’t include Pierre’s part in setting up whistleblowers, leakers & captured privatized 3rd Party regulatory functionaries? What if we ALL blown whistles and our betters’ fingers were three knuckles deep in their disinterested heads, buried in the sand? “I’ve got one here, who can SEE!”

  4. Partyless poster

    So many people, especially younger tech loving types, just don’t even care.
    I know a guy whose car insurance company wanted him to install an app on his phone that would track his movements and driving. He objected but only because the app would drain the battery of his phone.
    People on the left are always talking about the dangers of fascism but then seem eager to build themselves a nice cage where big brother can watch them.
    I don’t understand where all this trust comes from

    1. Angie Neer

      I recently switched to Allstate for my car. This was through an actual human agent. Though he had the cloying mannerisms of anybody who’s working on commission, he was refreshingly diligent about going through the policy offer point by point. One of the features was this “great discount program that just requires installing an app” on my phone. I said no way am I sharing my every move with Allstate, and he didn’t fight at all. Just “yeah, a lot of people say that, no problem.” He’s smart enough not to jeopardize the whole sale over that one bit.

      1. LAS

        Yes, I got that from Allstate as well … the hook was that it would lower your insurance payments to install that app. I did not go for it either.
        Allstate also presses hard to set up direct deposit or automatic payments for their premiums as if maybe they are afraid people will forget to pay them otherwise. They want control over everything for their advantage. But I also noticed they make a fair number of errors. So it is concerning on a number of levels. Not sure I’m going to stick with them.

      2. Ergo Sum

        “yeah, a lot of people say that, no problem.”

        But of course he would say that. We live in the world of telemetry on wheels; Allstate and other entities that want it can easily have access to. Just recently purchased a new vehicle that came with the telemetry, the new name for the same is telematic that does the same. Despite removing the module, without any impact to the vehicle, the manufacturer still gets all the telemetry data. As long as the SIM-card is in the vehicle, that will be the case in the future…

  5. Petter

    There are eyes everywhere. No blind spot left. What shall we dream of when everything becomes visible? We’ll dream of being blind.
    Paul Virilio

  6. Savita

    Joe Rogan interviewed Glenn Greenwald twice and Snowden twice. Fantastic listening. Rogan referred to Snowden as a hero and said it was an honour to interview him. Recommend them!

    Tangentially, not many people seem to realise Laura Poitras utterly betrayed Wikileaks. In the filming for her documentary Risk, which she changed three times to finally make it a ‘smear’ presentation. Breached all the NDA’s she signed, and genuinely put the staff lives at risk

  7. Tedder

    These massive data centers used to accumulate all kinds of data consume enormous quantities of energy. Our one saving grace might well be that with reduced available energy, we as a people can decide they are not worth the cost. Actually, they never have been worth the energy consumed, but seem to have been implemented just because they could capture all that data.

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