Tim Louis: What Edward Snowden can teach us

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      My partner, Penny, recently turned me onto audiobooks from Vancouver Public Library. I don't know why, but I was initially quite reluctant to switch from print to audio. I was convinced I would get nowhere near as much pleasure from listening to a book being read as I get from silent reading. How wrong I was!

      I just finished listening to one of the most incredible books I've ever "read". It was Edward Snowden's autobiography, Permanent Record, which was released last year and has been banned by China. It's fascinating.

      I've always known at some level that "The State" (meaning major national governments—particularly the U.S., China, and Russia) engage in unauthorized mass surveillance. However, I had no idea how extensive it is until I read this book.

      In his early 20s, Edward Snowden began working for U.S. intelligence agencies, both the NSA (the National Security Agency), and the CIA (the Central Intelligence Agency). Snowden is incredibly bright, and he moved up the ladder like a rocket. By the time he was only in his late 20s, he had one of the top security clearances for both agencies.

      As a dedicated patriot, he initially believed he was working for "the good guys". He soon found out otherwise.

      Snowden learned that in the late 1990s, the NSA had become aware of a Chinese mass surveillance program in which every single one of China's citizens' electronic communications was being monitored. It made him wonder if the NSA had an equally insidious capability.

      Eventually, he discovered it wasn't as he suspected—it was worse. The NSA had not only built an absolutely enormous facility with a digital storage capacity able to permanently store every single electronic communication made by every single person on the whole planet. Worse—they're actually doing it. Storing every single text, tweet, email, fax, social media post, et cetera, that you and I have made and will ever make. When it comes to our phones, the call itself is not recorded, but the metadata—the time, date, location and parties involved—is.

      What does this all mean for us?

      First of all, we should do everything we can to assist Snowden's efforts to have legislation passed in as many countries as possible—including the Five Eyes, the intelligence alliance made up of Canada, Australia, New Zealand, the U.K. and the U.S.—outlawing this nefarious state surveillance.

      Secondly, there are practical steps we can take as individuals to make it harder for "The State" to monitor us. Wherever possible, we can decline to store our data in the cloud. Also, software programs are available at little or no cost that we can install on our smartphones and computers to encrypt all our data.

      Many people, Snowden included, have also put a small piece of tape on the camera lens at the top of their laptops and computers so unknown players, including the NSA, can't hack in and see everything your computer camera can.

      I'm not against technology, of course. Every day I'm amazed at how our digital world allows me, and millions of others, to live and work to our fullest capacity—including enjoying audiobooks.

      But we have to know how and when to rein in this technology when it crosses the line and works against us in terms of privacy violations, data-sharing and surveillance, whether the players are "The State" or Google and Facebook.

      Daily atmospheric CO[Courtesy of CO2.Earth]

      Latest daily total (Dec. 2 2020): 413.59 ppm

      One year ago (Dec. 2, 2019): 410.90 ppm

      Tim Louis is a Vancouver lawyer and former city councillor and park commissioner. This article first appeared on his blog, which lists the daily carbon dioxide count in parts per million in the atmosphere at the end of every post. The Georgia Straight publishes opinions like this from the community to encourage constructive debate on important issues.