#CITIZENFOUR – a film by Laura Poitras

Thanx to rolfgeneratedcontent, I decided for one of my meanwhile (unfortunately) rare visits to the cinema and watched CITIZENFOUR, the documentary film by Laura Poitras outlining the chronology of events leading to the disclosure of some of the biggest spying endeavours of western governments (no, this is not only on the US, indeed).

The film is great work! It offers a glimpse of the vastness of data collected by programs like PRISM or TEMPORA, how security agencies engaged with big telecommunication providers in order to simply intercept lines, communications, traffic, … on the very source of transmission instead of at its origin – the persons involved.

Technology of these interceptions isn’t really rocket science (except, of course, for the decryption intelligence that those national security agencies posses just by their exceptionally high budgets – brain power is venal, either).

However, the question I keep pondering since having watched this documentary film is: What’s really the revelation? Not only of the film but of Ed Snowden’s work as such? Don’t get me wrong! I won’t argue for dropping human rights and personal privacy laws. Not at all. Neither will I say that the collection and structured analysis of data from millions of people against whom there’s no legal suspicion has any rightful legal basis. No. What I do, though, want to query is all those post-Snowden arguments against Cloud vendors and Service providers which state that no data can be given off-premise anymore for the reason of all the various programs that Snowden “whistleblowed” on.

Let me give you three simple considerations why I think that Snowden may have shaken us up (as awareness was so low prior to his revelations) but has not really disclosed the unknown:

  1. In a talk in 2013, Dr. Gerd Polli, ex head of the Austrian National Security, in essence stated that National Security Agencies always throughout the years head the possibilities, the money and the brain power to not only be ahead but supersede by far any technological intelligence within any non-governmental endeavour. Not only where they able to create respective programs but additionally have governments and businesses been their best-paying customers to receive espionage services; over decades. So the fact as such is far less new than – e.g. – Cloud Computing as a disruptive technology.
  2. Last year, facebook claimed 2.23 billion active users. All of them disclosing information about their current, their future, their past position, their activities, the people they surround themselves with, … Even though facebook – in my humble opinion – does a good job in allowing people to keep a respective level of privacy, it still lets through quite a bit even when I’m not connected to someone. Very useful information for anyone intending to stalk out the little extra of me.
  3. Anytime in the past – long before 9/11 and long before the capabilities of Cloud and Social services – could I have been observed by governmental institutions just because I may have been mistakenly judged to have illegal objectives of some kind. In the quest of identifying truly dangerous characters in a society it is highly unfortunate that sometimes legally acting people become victims. I’m by no means claiming this to be a good thing. And I believe, it is everyone’s responsibility to help clearing up wrong accusations and even more is it the core responsibility of governmental executives to treat observation and investigation cases with ever more care. However, fact remains – such things happen, also did they happen in the past.

My claim here is: This isn’t new. This isn’t a revelation. This isn’t a disclosure of the unknown. And this is by no means a reasoning why any kind of online services should be considered less secure than they have ever been before.

Remains the utterly hardest question: What can – what should – be done about it? Nothing? Abandon those programs? Let them Agencies act freely ever on just upon their will?

There’s no right answer to that, I believe. And I will always appreciate the aim of governments to reduce the danger of the next silly poacher causing a human life in the name of some religious interpretation …

I do think, the only rightful answer for acting and living within the fact of ubiquitous observation and data collection is two-folded:

  • Every single person has to act transparently, openly and humanly in a manner which obeys the laws, rules and regulations of his society for the benefit of a calm and secure life of everyone.
  • And every company – especially but by no means only telcos, security agencies and/or service providers – have to be fully transparent about every – literally: EACH and EVERY – interception of information running through their lines, services, …, their business.

I as a citizen have a right to know what is known about me by whom. And that includes Security Agencies to the full extent. In that, Ed Snowden’s revelations indeed serve the greater purpose of making a change to how governmental security treated privacy so far – and in that, they do need to be continued.


{ feature image from www.thehollywoodnews.com }

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