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[ NNSquad ] Beyond the Snowden Endgame

                          Beyond the Snowden Endgame


Barring dramatic revelations that would be out of character with the
data released by Edward Snowden so far, it now seems possible -- with
a minimum of emotion and a maximum of logic -- to foretell the Snowden
endgame, and the ultimate results of this entire saga.

Especially as Snowden has increasingly flirted with countries whose
human rights and free speech records are overall and en masse vastly
inferior to that of the U.S., many of his early vocal supporters have
suggested that the focus on Snowden himself is inappropriate, and that
we should be concentrating much more on the value of the information
he has released.

I agree, especially since Snowden's fate in fact will likely fall into
one of four outcomes.  He'll either be returned to the U.S. now -- or
not.  Or he'll be returned to the U.S. later -- or not.  The first two
possibilities represent a quite constrained set that we'll likely
understand within hours or days.  The latter two reach forward
potentially for many years, and will vary with changes in the
geopolitical situation that are impossible to predict today.

All of this will be of most importance to Snowden himself -- the rest
of us are bystanders in comparison, even given the fact that Snowden's
chosen methodology to release this data -- complete with dramatic
personal interviews -- guaranteed that he'd be the center of

So Snowden won't be mentioned again in this posting.

In terms of information released and both domestic and international
effects, the analysis is remarkably straightforward -- again, based on
what we know to date.

Despite some Congressional dissembling for political purposes now, it
seems likely that everything revealed will be found to be legal under
U.S. law as authorized by PATRIOT and other legislation, some of which
reaches back far earlier than 9/11.

The newer programs were all contemplated by and authorized by
Congress, in many cases enthusiastically.  Other issues, such as
communications cable tapping, Internet Deep Packet Inspection (DPI),
and other surveillance techniques -- including militarized cyberattack
functions -- have long been known as practiced by all the major powers
east and west, and probably by quite a few "smaller" powers as well.
"Spy vs. Spy."

So from the current vantage point at least, it appears that the actual
value of the information was minimal to zero in terms of actual
intelligence assets or tradecraft knowledge, and that its direct
national security implications are in reality very low.

However, since this entire exercise has been much akin to pouring
gasoline on a smoldering fire, there are and will continue to be major
impacts nonetheless.

Exaggerations (e.g., related to the so-called PRISM project) -- which
have already become oft-repeated memes associated with this saga --
have done significant damage to Web firms who have been falsely
accused of massive collusion with NSA.  The accusations are ludicrous
and illogical, but play into the hands of conspiracy buffs and tinfoil
hat aficionados around the world.

The U.S. government has so far refused to allow these firms to
transparently reveal the actual ranges of national security requests
made by the feds.  And since it's generally considered impossible to
prove a negative, this leaves the firms in much the position of the
fellow faced with responding to a rigged question like, "When did you
stop beating your wife?"

Beyond this, most of the effects are largely political, with complex
politically-driven ramifications.

Domestically, new opportunities have been created for conventional
political attacks, such as by strong supporters of these programs
under Bush who now have the opportunity to condemn the same programs
under Obama.  Ironically, these are many of the same people who
condemned us as "un-American" when we warned about the dangers of
these programs during PATRIOT's genesis.

An opportunity has also been created for today's supporters of these
programs to become even more entrenched, and demand even tougher
measures and security, using the current situation as the
justification -- and by trotting out all sorts of purported examples
of where these programs supposedly stopped "terror" attacks as
variously and expansively defined.

In the international arena, these events have provided a new
opportunity for countries with notoriously poor human rights 
records -- vast censorship regimes and media controls, blasphemy prosecutions,
enormous secret trial apparatuses and much more -- to condemn the U.S.
and further suppress their own internal dissent.

And that, my friends, is the situation in a nutshell.  We may see some
very minor short-term movement to at least theoretically reign in a
bit of the vast surveillance overreaches here (though other countries
will likely continue their own massive surveillance efforts as
before).  But the history of this space over the last half century and
more shows such reforms to have little if any staying power, and a
single new attack on American soil could be seized on as an excuse for
an even deeper and more pervasive surveillance regime.

If you've come to the conclusion that my overall sense of these events
is that they'll end up doing more damage to freedom than good -- you'd
unfortunately be correct.

In the long run, I suspect they will result in more deeply buried and
impenetrable surveillance empires -- both in the U.S. and around the
world -- and a determined sense by their proponents that in the
future, the relative transparency we had this time around would be
banished forever.

In the short run, we may see some small victories -- like Web firms
being permitted by the government to more effectively defend
themselves against false accusations, and perhaps a bit more
transparency related to the court actions that enable and (at least in
theory) monitor these programs.

But beyond that, while hope springs eternal, logic suggests that
prospects for the masters of surveillance around the world have not
been significantly dimmed, and in fact may have actually obtained a
longer-term boost.

Sorry about that, chief.

Take care, all.

Lauren Weinstein (lauren@vortex.com): http://www.vortex.com/lauren 
Co-Founder: People For Internet Responsibility: http://www.pfir.org/pfir-info
 - Network Neutrality Squad: http://www.nnsquad.org 
 - PRIVACY Forum: http://www.vortex.com/privacy-info
 - Data Wisdom Explorers League: http://www.dwel.org
 - Global Coalition for Transparent Internet Performance: http://www.gctip.org
Member: ACM Committee on Computers and Public Policy
Lauren's Blog: http://lauren.vortex.com
Google+: http://vortex.com/g+lauren / Twitter: http://vortex.com/t-lauren 
Tel: +1 (818) 225-2800 / Skype: vortex.com

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