Eyes on the People: How Snowden Changed How the Government Operates

Over the course of early June 2013, Edward Snowden became a household name. By revealing classified NSA documents involving government global surveillance programs that ran in concert with allied governments and telecommunications companies, Snowden sent shockwaves throughout American government and society.

It sparked a firestorm of activism and concern across the country, making many wonder to what lengths the government would go to collect information. Many already suspected the government was spying on us, and others were left wondering what sorts of information they had been taking from us.

We can only touch the surface, but here are a few ways Snowden’s operations have changed the tune the of U.S. government:

From Surreptitious to Misleading

Prior to Snowden, the public had little clue as to what was going on. We could speculate the government was spying on us, especially after the provisions of the PATRIOT Act, but concrete proof was out of our reach concerning the scope of spying like that which Snowden revealed.

Even if some proof or threads of evidence were found, the government could easily cover up and deny the programs, neutralizing people involved and manipulating information channels. Those breaking the information would be considered at the fringes, and the public wouldn’t know any better. The government could maintain their policy of secrets.

Times have changed due to Snowden. There’s no denying what’s going on, and the government must play its hand a bit more defensively.

That doesn’t mean there’s no issue. Instead of denying the program, they’re denying its scope. Instead of not spying on anyone, they’re only spying on “terrorists” or “suspects.”

Don’t believe them. We have to assume they’re taking in everything and that they’re waiting for the best opportunity to use it against us.

Welcome to the Technocracy

We’ve always had counterterrorism and counter criminal operations in one form or another. To a point, they are essential for safety. Law enforcement, as a concept, is nothing to fear. What we’re all worried about, though, is what happens when law enforcement gets out of hand or starts to lack solid human judgment.

This brings us to another of Snowden’s revelations: based on the scope of the program, there must be an algorithm or program to determine which communications or individuals get flagged in the first place. In fact, as we speak, you’re likely getting sorted into some factor of risk by a machine that has little oversight. Military and NSA resources are great, but what instructions are they getting? To what degree do Snowden’s revelation show us the future? If machines can do something so important as invade our privacy, what will they do next?

Artificial intelligence technology is progressing at an alarming rate. Home assistants are the low-end of the spectrum, so we have to ask ourselves what exists that hasn’t been released to the public. Very soon, data mining will get worrisome, and those holding the keys to the AI instructions will have far more power than we can ever be comfortable. Snowden brought the use of this technology out into the open, and we can’t ignore it.

Alternatively, well-meaning individuals will rely on data and figures more over time, leading away from human decisions that consider nuance and value freedom. With AI, the government might become even more detached, and the elite will have just another tool to control us. Snowden warned us against this sort of thing.

Information as Political Currency and a Weapon

The aftermath of the previous election has made both sides cynical, and rightfully so. It was unprecedented, it angered nearly everyone and there are accusations of election tampering and timed leaks from both sides. Whether or not you believe Russians tampered with the election (although there is more and more evidence that they were involved at some level), there was clearly foul play from the debates to some of the tactics used by parties to sway voters.

How does this relate to information? It’s vital to election strategy. Even 40 years ago, political consultants and party strategists would give their right leg for the data we have just a click away today. It allows people to target ads (even via questionable methods), gerrymander districts with greater accuracy and lie to the public without facing consequences. Data even allows politicians to manipulate the media and empowers the “elite” to puppet the major networks to maximum effect.

What Comes Next?

In the information age, there has only been one constant: there are no other constants, and technological ability grows past the rate at which we can adjust to it. The government, despite their best efforts to deceive us, will have technology we can’t even comprehend. We’d be fools to think they won’t use it against their enemies and on citizens if it feels it has something to gain. That’s just how power operates. We must be vigilant, and we must stand strong. Our own lives and habits cannot be used against us.

Has Snowden shaped how you view the government? What do you think has changed since his revelations? Do you think we are due for more information? Please let us know what you think by leaving a comment below.

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