Edward Snowden is a former intelligence consultant who in 2013 leaked classified NSA documents to journalists describing their surveillance programs that tap into people’s cell phones and internet communications. Snowden is viewed as a hero in some eyes, and a national traitor in others. During the “Shelter in Place,” episode he discussed the state of privacy today in relation to the pandemic. Edward is a firm believer in “privacy is power,” and feels that government officials are using that to their advantage. The world-wide known leaker began is interview explaining the confusion most people have when it comes to how ill-prepared officials were about the COVID-19 pandemic as if it’s not something they’ve seen before, he even alluded to how “there is nothing more foreseeable in a public health crisis than a pandemic,” especially in the polluted and overcrowded conditions of cities. He discussed how intelligence agencies knew about the pandemic for awhile now yet the system seemed so ill-prepared, resulting in, “the people who are being asked to give the most in this precarious situation are the ones who have the least to give,” it’s crippling our society essentially. The U.S. is the supposed richest country in the world and spends endless amounts of money into technology to surveil its citizens, but suddenly has no resources to provide for those getting laid off during this pandemic. Snowden calls into question the country’s capability to provide when he’s aware that they have the financial sustainability to, since they have no problem spying on Americans. Snowden talks about how the pandemic has revealed how aggressive authoritarianism in some countries has completely crossed the line when it comes to privacy. Edward believes that there is no privacy among citizens now, as contact tracing, though ineffective, has become the core form of COVID-19 alerting and tracking. In South Korea, the CDC uses telecommunication known as contact tracing to inform those via text message if somebody they know or have been around has come in contact with covid. Snowden said in Taiwan they utilize a mobile fence which turns the phone into an ankle bracelet monitor, it tracks where you’re going if you’re infected and tries to contain you in a certain area. This method of smart contact tracing allows the government to know who is infected, then sends out alerts in regards to the people surrounding them. This poses the question of: is this level of invasion necessary for the greater good of society? Snowden believes that it’s not, because the surveillance of 100,000+ phones in one precise location reduces its effectiveness of COVID-19 tracking. Snowden thinks the world should take a more collective approach to combating the virus, coming together and getting on one accord internationally to solve the problem. Edward says that there is fear in this, because it would lead to peace, and what would the world do if it was at total peace? I think he is right. If the surveillance’s efficacy is not as high as it presents itself, then there is no need for it. These surveillance measures were supposed to go away years after 9/11, in 2005 to be exact, yet the very laws the Patriot Act enforces is still active. I agree that emergencies truly never end and there is always some complication or battle the U.S. has to deal with that prolongs their need to invade the privacy of its people.
We all have the COVID-19 tracker on our phones, but honestly I have never been alerted of infected people surrounding me, so what is its true purpose? It’s like it masks the true intention of what it’s for. Snowden makes fair points in regards to society and the government’s tendency to overstep boundaries when it comes to surveillance. It is even worse in authoritarian countries, but at least they’re more open about what they’re doing. In the U.S., citizens have to rely on information leakers such as Snowden. Even on social media, we can see this surveillance being used as ads will pop up with items that one may have texted about or discussed over the phone and it’s truly scary. Snowden felt that privacy “was meant to be the individuals’ power,” or a form of protection or shelter citizens from being overpowered by their government. As mentioned in the video, Snowden believed Americans were sacrificing their right to privacy and protection, and basically giving into the power of political officials. I don’t think he’s off, because even with the smart contact used on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter for promotional purposes, we never seem to question that it exists, it’s just one of those things people became comfortable with. Edward Snowden is definitely onto something when he says we have no sense of privacy as citizens in the U.S., our every move is watched, but there’s no reformative changes being made based on this surveillancing; we’re still in a pandemic and people are still without resources. The people have a right to privacy and a beneficial explanation as to why they’re being stalked without permission.