Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Snowden exposed practices that might affect ordinary Americans -- should he be pardoned?

Vox Media, in a posting by Timothy B. Lee, leading to one of the Vox “card conversations” about the whole NSA scandal, makes a case for the complete pardoning of Edward Snowden, link here. Yes, Snowden exposed surveillance practices that have the potential to affect ordinary Americans, although the practical risk to most people is rather remote. 
I don’t need to repeat the entire line of reasoning, now covered so well by many media outlets.  It does seem that the NSA has often exceeded the legal authority, to go through FISA and the like, has collected data (privileged content) illegally on ordinary citizens even in the US, and has apparently hacked computers, which could affect homes and small businesses.

Of particular concern is that NSA-related malware might make small business or home computers more vulnerable to real hackers or terrorists, or might set them up to be framed.  So far, it does not seem that has happened to “ordinary” Americans in the US, unless they have some kind of “unusual” associations, but that itself is a dangerously subjective idea. 

The interesting thing is that advanced technology associated with surveillance and intelligence services does help law enforcement catch “real” criminals, even ordinary burglars.  One example is a system that can track the location of any vehicle by license plate (in heavy use especially in California).  It’s easy to imagine extensions.  Law enforcement could monitor “cloud” backups of home or business computers for child pornography (to the extent that some images are watermarked or tagged), or could try to interpret text files for plots and plans in some cases.  It isn’t hard to imagine how this could be abused, and lead to real challenges of the “probable cause” concept. 

Update: June 11

Ellen Nakashima is reporting in the Washington Post that Microsoft is resisting efforts to get it to reveal email contents stored in overseas servers, link here. The upshot is that major companies know that the government (and not just the NSA) can peruse cloud data (supposedly private and unpublished) already. 

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