Bruce Schneier on the NSA’s Surveillance 5: Possible Backlash of Ubiquitous Spying

The Occupy Radio host and Bruce Schneier now dwell on the probable outcomes of the NSA’s spying activities and try to depict the future state of affairs.

– Ok, now that exists on a domestic scale and it exists on an international scale: we want to have power over a government. I’m curious: is our government taking a new position in the world today? Like we forced the Bolivian president’s airplane to land because we were afraid Edward Snowden was on the plane. We didn’t have the right to do that?

– I don’t know. I mean we’ve gotten very bully since 9/11. We enforce security measures on other countries, a lot of bullying ran up to the war in Iraq. Here we are, trying to push our agenda internationally. You can say it’s because we have the power to do it, but there’s a lot of duplicity.

I recently reread then-Secretary of State Clinton’s speech: “Internet Freedom” that she gave a couple of years ago. And I was reading it to look at what this speech says about the United States, and she’s basically harassing China and other countries for censorship, for surveillance, for all those bad things that we are doing. And she could have just as easily turned that speech against the United States.

There are a lot of differences between what the countries do, but it’s very hard for us to be a moral actor on the world stage and push for freedom and liberty and rights all over the world when we do the exact opposite thing back home, with the defense of: “That’s different”. You know, maybe it is, but the last thing I want is the government of China to say: “Surveillance is ok, the US does it, even America does it”. I don’t want that; I want us to be an example of liberty, not an example of reducing liberty.

– I’m curious though: will we have a backlash? The evidence right now is that we’re losing South America because we’re so heavy-handed.

NSA spying programs target non-Americans

NSA spying programs target non-Americans

– What’s very funny is that the defense that we’ve been hearing that defends the program is: “But they only target non-Americans”. It’s not true, but they’ve been saying that. Recently the Europeans have woken up and said: “Wait a second, we are non-Americans. Are you spying on us?” And it turns out we are. We’re even spying on the governments of our allies. And this is going to be a big international incident. And again, it’s because if you’re the NSA, you spy on absolutely everybody. We’d found that ex-President Clinton was spied on. This is what the NSA does.

There’s been a lot of push to pull the management of the Internet away from the United States. This is actually a bad thing: there are a lot of countries that want to have more domestic control so that they can increase their totalitarian power: countries like Russia, China, Iran; and they are trying to wrest control of the Internet protocols from the United States. There was a big meeting in Dubai last fall, the International Telecommunications Union, the group that runs the phone networks, basically trying to take over the Internet. And they are being stopped because a lot of countries realize that it will be a bad thing. The US runs this very benevolently for the world and should continue to. Now the countries that want to take it away have some really strong arguments: “Look, you can’t trust the Americans”. So here again we’re going to see a backlash and this worries me.

– What I’m seeing right now is that our government is changing its position in the world vis-à-vis the different countries and also vis-à-vis our fellow Americans. Are we becoming something that hasn’t been seen in the world, somebody who has the ability to influence other governments to their own detriment, and basically are we doing this because of a corporate mandate now? It seems to me everything is shifting to the corporate.

David Rothkopf’s book 'Power, Inc.'

David Rothkopf’s book “Power, Inc.”

– I don’t know. It’s a very good question, and certainly the rise of corporate power is an important element in all of this. I think it’s the consonance of corporate and government power. I recently read David Rothkopf’s book “Power, Inc.”, where he talks about how corporate power has changed in the world in the past several decades. I’m not sure where it’s coming from, because it gets way outside my field, but I do see this consonance of interests having a lot to do here. If you think about it, now you have, when Facebook wants to collect even more data, they now have friends in the government, because they know they’re going to get a copy. So now how are our interests going to be protected?

– Well, it doesn’t seem like our interests are going to be protected.

– That’s the fear.

– We don’t have anybody on our side anymore?

– We do a little bit. One of the weird things that came out of this is that you had companies like Google and Facebook demanding more transparency. Here is the issue: their business requires us to trust them with our friends, our photos, our emails, our documents, our messages. And their business model requires them to betray that trust to advertisers. They talk about it, just not very clearly, but that’s what the business is.

Also it seems that they have a side business betraying that trust to the government. And they are terrified that we all will now stop trusting them and stop giving them our data. So they want, and they are now pushing lobbyist laws behind, forcing the NSA to be more transparent so they can be more transparent so we would relax and we would keep sending them our photos. I didn’t expect that, but it’s one of the weird political things going on right now.

– Yeah, and what’s going on there is the potential decrease in the flow of funds to these private agencies is our only chance to check our government. It’s basically what I am hearing them say there.

– That seems to be the case right now. This is far from over. My worry right now is press fatigue, that the human story is way more interesting than the actual NSA programs, and that’s what’s being reported on. In my dark days I was saying things like: “You know, Princess Kate is going to have a baby”, and this is all over the news.

And maybe that’s true, but as I said when I started this interview, Glenn Greenwald has said he’s not done, there are something like a thousand documents, of which we’ve seen very few. This analysis could go on for years, and that’s why I don’t focus on this document, that document, this program, that program, because they’re all just little point shadows of this big behemoth. And we need to start talking about the behemoth.

I’d love to see another Church Commission, but unfortunately Congress is so dysfunctional that I can’t imagine it helping. There’s a great movement right now, the Electronic Privacy Information Center. It’s pushing for the NSA to be subjected to this rule making law, that they have to make this stuff available for public comment. And it’s a very interesting legal argument which has never been made before, but it’s going to go through the court, we’ll see what happens. There are some things happening, but people are largely saying: “The NSA is spying on us – we knew that, old news”. And old news is news that is off the front page. And now they will continue.

– So, what do you think in the future – are we going to look back on Edward Snowden as somebody who was a turning point when he popped up?

– I think it will be. I don’t think it’s going to be a turning point immediately, but it’s sort of interesting. He is the whistleblower that is getting the information out. He’s not the first. There have been other NSA whistleblowers in the past decade that had told us some of this and it was ignored. This is going to be different. I don’t think anything will happen right away, but when people write the history, this will be a pivotal moment. This will be a Daniel Ellsberg moment, this will be the moment where the world – and maybe it won’t even be the US that pushed it, maybe it will be someone else – where the world realizes what the NSA was doing: we had a rogue agency in our country that was just doing whatever they wanted without being subjected to any rule of law.

– Has the NSA gotten ahead of law, in other words, does the technology the NSA possesses put them ahead of the restrictions that law would normally impose on somebody?

– It’s not the technology. They’ve gotten ahead of law because they figured out how to hack it, through a combination of secrecy and tortured legal reasoning. And they’ve been able to get ahead of law, to actually hack law to do whatever they want. It’s not the technology. We can easily write laws that will protect us, it isn’t hard. But it’s the fact that most of us didn’t even realize we have to write those laws. Most of us didn’t realize that the NSA believed that the Patriot Act and the justification to go to war against Iraq enabled them to do this. It just makes no sense.

– Alright, this has been a very eye-opening conversation. But if you feel like there is one point that I really need to take away from this conversation and my listeners really need to take away from this conversation, what would you say that is?

– …That we have to pay attention to this issue. Easy thing is to ignore the issue, to let it slide, but that’s how the bad guys win. And this is important and we cannot allow that pressure. I’m so amazed. The analogy I’ll use is gay marriage in the US. Four years ago we all wrote that off, it would never happen, right? And suddenly things change over the course of a couple of years, and now it’s inevitable. This issue will be like that, that we can’t give up even though it’s dark, because sooner or later we’re going to win this. We don’t know how, we don’t know when, but even though it’s hard, we can’t lose hope.

– I like that, that’s a good way to go. Alright, well, thanks a lot, Bruce!

– Thank you!

Read previous: Bruce Schneier on the NSA’s Surveillance 4: The Social Value of Privacy

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