Edward Snowden’s Rocky Road to Justice

Posted on January 29, 2014 by Nikhil P Naik

He’s been called a hero, a whistleblower, a traitor that deserves to be killed, and a true patriot. The actions of Edward Snowden are now known as the most significant leak in American history. Starting in June 2013, Snowden, a former CIA employee and former NSA contractor, disclosed classified NSA documents to various media outlets, starting a scandal that has shaken the political and digital world.

edward snowden

Despite all that has been revealed by Snowden and the various news publications that shared his findings, Snowden and the journalists he worked with have claimed that “only 1%” of his findings have been revealed so far, the majority of which have yet to be published. Snowden’s actions have had massive implications on US and international law, international diplomacy and IT security, as well as the entire whistleblowing culture.

Even though the disclosures already in the public domain have shocked and outraged, the worst may be still to come. In the meantime, Snowden is under temporary asylum in Russia, unable to return to the USA. He and those who have worked hard to expose the practices of American government bodies have sacrificed their personal freedom. If you’re still uncertain of the vast consequences of Snowden’s actions, from the future of web security to cyber incident response planning, read on.

The leaks so far 

Snowden is now facing treason and espionage charges. The leaks that have led to these charges can be summarised as follows:

US spy agency collecting records: Snowden had evidence of a secret court order directing the US telecoms company Verizon to hand over all of its telephone data to the NSA, on an ‘ongoing, daily basis’. It was also found that the NSA was tapping directly into the servers of nine internet firms, including Facebook, Google, Microsoft and Yahoo, to track all online communication, which was then compiled into a surveillance programme known as Prism. Britain’s own electronic eavesdropping agency, GCHQ, was also accused of gathering information via Prism.

The US hacks Chinese networks: Snowden revealed to the Chinese press that the NSA had more than 61,000 hacking operations around the world, many of them in Hong Kong and mainland China, targeting the Chinese University of Hong Kong, public officials and businesses.

The US hacked EU offices: More outrage was caused as it emerged that the NSA had spied on European Union offices, both in the US as well as Europe. This entailed electronic eavesdropping in Brussels, where the EU Council of Ministers held meetings, most probably to collect information on European trade and military matters.

Angela Merkels phone was bugged: Angela Merkel, Chancellor of Germany, compared the US government to East Germany’s Stasi Police when it emerged that they had even bugged her telephone. She demanded a full explanation and stated that the trust shared between the two allied nations had been affected by the revelations.

Extensive spying on embassies: Evidence that the US government had spied on a total of 38 embassies, including those of France, Italy, Greece and non-European allies like Japan and South Korea, was also found. They had allegedly used a wide range of methods such as bugs, specialised antennae and wire taps.

The technological implications

Aside from the massive political fallout and backlash against the US government for its spying, as well as the UK government for its complicity, there are major technological implications too.

The integrity of the web

Alan Rusbridger, the editor of The Guardian, one of the newspapers instrumental in publishing the leaks, has stated that the integrity of the web itself is in danger. There is overwhelming evidence that the basic security of digital platforms used by millions of people around the globe has been compromised. Rusbridger went on to state that the digital economies of the US and the UK are at risk: there will be an inevitable backlash against tech companies which could cost up to tens of billions of dollars over the next few years.

Digital and network forensics

The effects on digital and network forensics are yet to be fully realised. It has been reported that the US government’s efforts to figure out which classified documents Snowden took have been stalled due to the sophisticated steps he took in covering his digital trail. He deleted and bypassed all electronic logs that would have showed the information he accessed or downloaded. This probably means that we can expect changes in the way digital and network forensics work, as well as increasingly complex cyber incident response plans. Click here for more information on network forensics.

Cloud service security

Following the allegations that the NSA taps WAN links between cloud providers’ data centres, IT professionals and experts have had to question the integrity of cloud service security in the USA. Analysts have claimed that cloud service providers need to ensure that total transparency is provided to customers post-Snowden. All information on government data requests needs to be given, as well as end-to-end data encryption.

This isn’t the last we’ve seen of Edward Snowden. If what he and The Guardian claim about the rest of the information they are yet to release is correct, it’s highly likely that there are going to be sweeping changes in a variety of spheres: political, technological and legal. What he has done will shape our right to privacy for years to come.

He has undertaken massive personal sacrifice to show the rest of the world how the law is being routinely broken by the powers that be. This has prompted a global debate about privacy and the lengths we are willing to go for it. He may not be able to return home for a very long time. The least we can do is engage in the debate he has sparked.

About Nikhil P Naik

Nikhil Naik has finished his graduation in the field of IT and is currently mastering at the University of South Florida. He also loves watching cricket, listening to music and travelling. Twitter Handle - @buzz_nikhil.

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