In Numbers 13:17-20 in the Old Testament, one finds what is perhaps the first historical record of the gathering of intelligence information, when the patriarch Moses sends the Israelites to explore Canaan: “Go up through the Negev and on into the hill country. See what the land is like and whether the people who live there are strong or weak, few or many. What kind of land do they live in? Is it good or bad? What kind of towns do they live in? Are they unwalled or fortified? How is the soil? Is it fertile or poor? Are there trees in it or not?"
This reference is a fitting one to remember nowadays when considering the growing controversy and public debate surrounding the recent revelations made by the ex-intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, who at the beginning of June leaked information to British newspaper The Guardian, revealing that the U.S. government had compiled millions of telephone call records and monitored the online communication of users of nine major internet companies through the National Security Agency and the FBI.
All the governments in the world value intelligence information as an essential strategic benefit and have agencies that collect, process and analyze said information for the purpose of creating results that help in the making of decisions that safeguard their security. The U.S. has 14 agencies, among which stand out the CIA, the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the NSA.
Israel has the Mossad, the United Kingdom has the Secret Intelligence Service, Russia has the Foreign Intelligence Service, France has the Directorate-General for External Security and our country has the Center for Research and National Security. In that sense, all the intelligence agencies operate under a common framework of the circles of intelligence, which guide their actions and operations depending on their own objectives and interests as well as their risk agendas.
As General Michael Hayden, ex-director of the NSA, admitted on June 28 in an interview with the television program RT, "All nations conduct espionage. All of them do. We’ve focused on the U.S. now because we actually are more transparent about espionage than any other country on Earth."
Snowden is neither the first nor the last "hacktivist" who, based on his values, his perception of justice or loyalty and even in the scope of his own constitution and international treaties, which prohibit massive, widespread surveillance, has leaked sensitive government information with the right to information and transparency as the primary banner. Daniel Ellsberg, Philip Agee, Thomas Drake, Bradley Manning and Julian Assange, among others, did it before him.
But the revelations made by Snowden, which were described by Ellsberg as a coup d’état by the U.S. government against its own Constitution, were revealed in the present context of hyper connectivity and highly advanced communication technologies. These have facilitated the tracing of activities, conversations and the geographic location of users, giving the advantage to intelligence agencies to spy on said users while claiming that the reason is to strengthen the fight against organized international crime and terrorism, even when this is detrimental to the legitimate right to individual privacy and security.
According to President Obama, such actions are justified in the current times, and citizens cannot have “100 percent security and also have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.” Such statements strengthen the theory that Julian Assange issued in a recent speech: “Government secrecy has been expanding on a terrific scale. Simultaneously, human privacy has been secretly eradicated.”
There exists a fine line between intelligence work, the invasion of privacy and the violation of freedom of expression on the Internet, and it's worth noting that Internet surveillance takes place because we use the internet, as demonstrated last year by the 144 billion emails sent and 72 hours of video uploaded per minute to YouTube.
The work of intelligence agencies on a global scale will continue. Nevertheless, as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights pointed out, “Without adequate legislation and legal standards to ensure the privacy, security and anonymity of communications, journalists, human rights defenders and whistle-blowers, for example, cannot be assured that their communications will not be subject to states’ scrutiny.”
Edited by Keith Armstrong