The name’s Snowden. Edward Snowden

Snowden

I was asked today whether I thought that Edward Snowden was a one-off, or whether there were more whistleblowers waiting in the wings, and he was the first of many. ‘Of course,’ I said, without even thinking, ‘many, many more.’

It was only afterwards that I thought about why I believe that – because I do believe it. There are many factors, all of which contribute to the likelihood of further whistleblowers, leakers, ‘spies’, or whatever you want to call them.

You need secrets

Whistleblowers need something to blow the whistle about – and, to be frank, there’s plenty more where PRISM came from. If anyone thinks that Snowden has leaked everything that can be leaked in relation to the activities of the NSA, GCHQ and so forth, they’re being very naive. There are lots more secrets where they came from. Indeed, since the first revelations a whole lot more have emerged, and not just from the US. An equivalent French programme, ‘le Big Brother français’ was leaked to Le Monde and allegations of collaboration between the security services in the Netherlands and the US were just two examples: both leaked by people other than Snowden, but apparently inspired by him.

You need ‘bad guys’

The NSA fits the bill here – an almost nameless (‘No Such Agency’) group of faceless spooks, spying on everyone, accountable to no-one. They’re classical villains in spy movies: they’re the ‘State’ in ‘Enemy of the State’, the CIA cell hunting down Jason Bourne and so on. What’s more, their villainous nature has broadened to encompass pretty much the whole of the US government – Obama’s personal involvement has ensured that.

You need inspirations

Polls in the US have suggested there’s a deep split in opinion about Snowden – but to be an inspiration he doesn’t have to be considered a hero by the majority of Americans. He doesn’t even have to be considered a hero by a significant minority of Americans – he has to be considered a hero by enough of the right kind of people. I think he is. In the hacker community his status seems pretty assured – and that’s probably enough.

What’s more, the treatment of Snowden by the US authorities has cemented that status. The way they treated him has made him look like the hero of a spy movie – chasing him from one exotic location to another, causing diplomatic rows by seemingly forcing a diplomatic plane to be diverted and grounded and so on. Perhaps he’s not James Bond, but there are certainly echoes Jason Bourne in his story.

Of course there are arguments that can be made in support of the severity of the response – but would it really put off further whistleblowers? Will they be deterred by the way that Snowden is being hounded? It doesn’t seem likely – the sort of people to make the kind of carefully calculated rational decisions needed to be deterred are not likely whistleblowers anyway. It’s more likely that they will be inspired. Did the abysmal treatment of Bradley Manning by the US authorities deter Snowden? The opposite – they inspired him, made him feel that what he was doing was worthwhile. He quoted the treatment of Manning as one of the reasons that he felt he had to blow the whistle.

In most ways, to me it looks as though the US has done pretty much exactly the wrong thing in relation to Snowden. They’ve made him a cult figure, someone whose name will be remembered in hacker circles for a generation – and is likely to inspire further whistleblowers and hackers.

You need potential whistleblowers

…and that’s the real rub. There are plenty of them. The NSA and their equivalents will be employing nerds, hackers, programmers, whatever you choose to call them, and they’ll be employing a lot of them. What’s more, given the nature of the field, they’ll probably be using third parties to do a lot of the work for them – just as they did in with Booz Allen Hamilton in the case of Snowden. That means they can’t possibly be sure that they’re not employing another potential whistleblower. The people doing the work won’t be ‘career spooks’, deeply loyal to their nation and their agency, ready to give their all, regardless of anything else – those kinds of people are far more the myths of movies than heroes like Bond or Bourne. The people doing the real work will be much more ‘normal’ than that.

So all the pieces of the jigsaw are in place. Snowden wasn’t the first such whistleblower – and he certainly won’t be the last. The authorities need to understand that. Just as we need to adjust ourselves to the fact that we’re being watched all the time, they need to adjust themselves to the reality that their secret plans will almost certainly be leaked.

As I’ve said before, there’s only one sure way to stop your evil plans from being exposed – and that’s not to have evil plans in the first place. Sadly it’s pretty certain that won’t be the solution that the NSA and others find….

12 days…. of privacy?

NOW ALSO AVAILABLE ON VIDEO (if you want proof that I can’t sing): here

Privacy is the gift that keeps on giving…. and for privacy advocates and lawyers, this year particularly! To keep festive, here’s a little song for the season…. Now if only I could sing!

—————————————–
On the first day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
The Leveson Inquiry
—————————————–
On the second day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Two Royal boobies (1)
And the Leveson Inquiry
—————————————–
 On the third day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Three data breaches (2)
Two Royal boobies
And the Leveson Inquiry
 —————————————–
On the fourth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Four Cops resigning (3)
Three data breaches
Two Royal boobies
And the Leveson Inquiry
 —————————————–
On the fifth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
The News – of the – World
Four cops resigning
Three data breaches
Two Royal boobs
And the Leveson Inquiry
—————————————– 
On the sixth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Six BBC fiascos (4)
The News – of the – World
Four cops resigning
Three data breaches
Two Royal boobs
And the Leveson Inquiry
 —————————————–
On the seventh day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Seven super-injunctions (5)
Six BBC fiascos
The News – of the – World
Four cops resigning
Three data breaches
Two Royal boobs
And the Leveson Inquiry
 —————————————–
On the eighth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Eight hacks arrested (6)
Seven super-injunctions
Six BBC fiascos
The News – of the – World
Four cops resigning
Three data breaches
Two Royal boobs
And the Leveson Inquiry
—————————————– 
On the ninth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Nine leakers leaking
Eight hacks arrested
Seven super-injunctions
Six BBC fiascos
The News – of the – World
Four cops resigning
Three data breaches
Two Royal boobs
And the Leveson Inquiry
—————————————– 
On the tenth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Ten snoopers snooping (7)
Nine leakers leaking
Eight hacks arrested
Seven super-injunctions
Six BBC fiascos
The News – of the – World
Four cops resigning
Three data breaches
Two Royal boobs
And the Leveson Inquiry
 —————————————–
On the eleventh day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Eleven bloggers blogging
Ten snoopers snooping
Nine leakers leaking
Eight hacks arrested
Seven super-injunctions
Six BBC fiascos
The News – of the – World
Four cops resigning
Three data breaches
Two Royal boobs
And the Leveson Inquiry
 —————————————–
On the twelfth day of Christmas
My true love gave to me
Twelve tweeters tweeting
Eleven bloggers blogging
Ten snoopers snooping
Nine leakers leaking
Eight hacks arrested
Seven super-injunctions
Six BBC fiascos
The News – of the – World
Four cops resigning
Three data breaches
Two Royal boobs
And the Leveson Inquiry
—————————————–
Notes:
(1) The Duchess of Cambridge was photographed topless in France… and if you don’t remember that farrago, lucky you.
(2) Actually far, far more than three data breaches…….
(3) To be more accurate, two resigned, one was suspended and one put on extended leave. 
(4) There may be fewer, but it feels like at least six, from the Savile and Newsnight cases downwards! Poetic license….
(5) It’s not clear precisely how many have been granted – but far fewer than people might think!
(6) Actually significantly more, even in connection with Leveson alone. A lot. 
(7) If the Home Office had had its way, we’d have had far, far more than 10 snoopers snooping with the Snoopers’ Charter (Communications Data Bill). Fortunately, we managed to head them off at the pass, at least for now!
 

Assange – keeping the issues separate

Yesterday, as most people interested in the subject know, Assange lost his appeal against extradition to Sweden to face accusations of sexual misconduct. He lost on all four counts of his appeal, and lost so convincingly that many commentators have suggested that his chances of success in one, final appeal to the Supreme Court are very slim indeed. He has not yet, at the time of writing, decided whether or not to make such an appeal.

It’s not the facts of what happened yesterday that matters to me, but the implications – and in particular, the reactions from so many people interested in Assange, in Wikileaks, in freedom of information, in combating secrecy, in the potential liberating power of the internet and so forth. For far too many of them, in my opinion, all these issues have been far to closely linked. We need to separate out the different issues. Julian Assange is not Wikileaks, and Wikileaks is not Julian Assange. Freedom of information and the fight against government and corporate secrecy and power is not dependent on Wikileaks, let alone on Julian Assange himself. We need to be able to separate the issues, and to think clearly about them. We need to be able to fight the right battles, not the wrong ones.

There are many people who, like me, are very much in support of the aims of Wikileaks, and who see the liberating potential of the internet as one of the most important things to emerge in recent times (without understating the reverse – the potential for the internet to be used for oppression and control, as so ably set out by Evgeny Morozov and others), but who, at the same time, support the concept of the rule of law, where that law is both appropriate and proportionate. I want open government, liberal government, accountable government – not no government at all. I don’t want personality cults, I don’t want anyone to be above the law, whether they are ‘good guys’ or ‘bad guys’. For me, that means I want Assange to face his accusers, and I want to be able to find out whether he is guilty or not.

Assange has already lost a lot of supporters in Sweden – as this Swedish commentator points out – by attacking both their legal system in relation to sexual offences and their apparent willingness to extradite easily to the US. For me, both of these accusations need to be looked at very carefully. Most people who have studied the way that sexual offences – and in particular accusations of rape – have been treated historically in the courts should recognise that women have generally got a very raw deal indeed. The way that the Swedish system has attempted to at least to start to rectify this balance is one that should be applauded and supported, not attacked or even vilified, in the way that some supporters of Assange seem to have done – ‘the Saudi Arabia of Feminism’ is one of the descriptions put forward. Such attacks are not justified or in any way appropriate – at least not to me.

And are Sweden really more likely to extradite Assange to the US than we are in the UK? It seems unlikely, as Andy Greenberg’s report in Forbes suggests. The UK doesn’t have a good record in resisting such requests – and given all the publicity it seems highly unlikely that the Swedish would let such a thing happen on their watch. Moreover, the Swedish system would require dual criminality for an extradition to occur – that is, the offence committed has to be a crime both in the country seeking extradition and in Sweden itself. Assange’s ‘offenses’ would not easily be shoehorned into that description. Either way, it’s hard to see an extradition occurring from Sweden – extradition from the UK seems far more likely.

There’s one further point about the Swedish system – one that seems to have been missed by many of his supporters. It’s not really true that ‘no charges’ have been brought. As the judge pointed out in yesterday’s ruling, the Swedish system is different to that in the UK, and ‘charges’ are only brought at a very late stage, with a trial to follow almost immediately. The Swedish investigation has gone past the point where, in the UK, US or Australian investigation, charges would have been brought. Implications that the opposite true are really not helpful.

When I’ve suggested either that Assange was likely to get a fair trial in Sweden or that extradition to the US was unlikely, many people have shot me down, suggesting that there would be a stitch up between the Swedish and US authorities, that the charges were trumped up to start with – ultimately that there is a great conspiracy to bring Assange down. I don’t find the latter that difficult to believe – there are certainly some very bad things happening in relation to Wikileaks, and the approach used to try to squeeze the life out of them through the financial blockade is one of the most reprehensible and dangerous developments of recent years. However, if that conspiracy extends to ‘trumped up’ charges of rape and sexual assault on Assange, then for me that actually provides an opportunity, not a threat.

That’s where the rub comes. If Assange is guilty, then he should face the charges and receive appropriate punishment. If he’s innocent – and in particular if he’s the victim of a conspiracy-based set-up – then by facing the charges, by going through a legal process, he can prove that, and even expose the conspiracy. I’m not saying that I believe either way – neither I, nor the vast majority of either his supporters or his enemies know enough to know that. If he’s guilty, he wouldn’t be the first man to have abused his position of celebrity and power to behave inappropriately. If he’s innocent, he wouldn’t be the first innocent man accused in this way – or the first set up by his enemies.

For me, though, if you support the kinds of things that Wikileaks supports – exposing the truth, holding the powerful to account, moving towards a better, more open, more liberal future – you should want all this to be out in the open too. That means letting Assange go to Sweden, and it means refraining from the very smear tactics that his opponents use in relation to the Swedish judicial system. There are many, many things to be concerned about in relation to the treatment of Wikileaks, and indeed of Assange – but yesterday’s ruling, almost certainly correct from a legal perspective as bloggers like the excellent Adam Wagner have made clear, is not one of them.

Whether Assange is guilty or not, and whether he’s found guilty or not, supporters of freedom of information – and supporters of Wikileaks – should try not to tie his personal issues with the broader, more important issues that Wikileaks has raised. They’re not intrinsically and inextricably linked – and if we let them be, we’re playing into the hands of the very groups that we should be opposing.