When the Patriot Act first passed in the wake of the 9/11 attacks, I was part of a group that organized panel discussions and protests against the act. The kind of wholesale surveillance revealed by Edward Snowden was exactly the kind of thing, we feared, for which the Patriot Act paved the way. And although the consensus (as far as there is one) seems to be that the post-9/11 surveillance techniques of the NSA over-reach even the provisions of the Patriot Act, the law allowed for just a little hop-skip to the place where we are today. So, while my inclination is to say, “I told you so,” no one really cares what I thought when the act was first passed so why bother saying it?
A commenter on the radio asserted that the U.S. is divided into two camps, those who think Edward Snowden is a hero and a patriot and those who think he’s a traitor. I would argue there’s a third camp of people who know his name but don’t know anything else about him, but the division is the source of the point I’m trying to make. I’ve been inclined to think of Snowden as a hero from the beginning, and I’m even more inclined to think so after reading The Snowden Files. I’m also inclined to ask my many computer-savvy friends for advice on encryption software for my laptop. Not because I’m engaged in illegal activities, but that’s the whole point: the NSA is hoovering up data from everyone, not just from suspected terrorists. If I pissed off someone in the government, I’m sure they could come up with enough evidence from my internet search history and my library records to cobble together a case against me, or against anyone.
The thing I don’t quite understand is why more people—myself included—aren’t totally up-in-arms (figuratively speaking) about Snowden’s revelations. Why are so many of us just going about business as usual? Is it because we assume we have nothing to hide, and so we’re leaving things be and letting it up to the journalists to be targeted as terrorists for reporting government actions that flout our rights under the Constitution? Or is it because we already assumed we had no privacy and so this new information doesn’t really bother us? As one friend puts it, “I assume they already have all of my information anyway.”
But about the book: I enjoyed this book. It was a pleasant (if disturbing) read. I admit, I skimmed the “Shoot the Messenger” chapter in which Harding goes into detail about the inner workings of British government. I am an American, after all, and hearing about what happens in other countries kind of makes me glaze over. I was astounded, however, at the grounding of the flight of the president of Bolivia when he was suspected of smuggling Snowden out of Russia (he didn’t, btw). No wonder some other countries think of the U.S. as a big bully throwing its weight around.
So, my next action is to procure Greenwald’s book about the contents of the Snowden leaks, and to maybe buy myself a typewriter and start visiting people in person rather than calling or e-mailing.