The World Before and After Snowden



The whistleblower Edward Snowden has caused society to have a major rethink, but hardly brought about any reforms.

Who Edward Snowden is needs no explanation two years after his revelations. The former American intelligence contractor has managed to stay present in the public consciousness, even though he is still stuck in exile in Moscow. This differentiates Snowden from earlier whistleblowers whose names have long since disappeared from the broad debate; think, for example, of Bradley Manning or Julian Assange, who both took on responsibility for the disclosures on the WikiLeaks website. The former is serving a long prison sentence, and the latter is hiding from law enforcement authorities in the Ecuadorean Embassy in London.

Snowden’s revelations are continuing to have an impact, firstly because he has gained powerful media representatives as partners who continue to publish documents he has stolen, piecemeal and in a publicly effective way. Secondly, he is managing to maintain his global presence, despite his exile in Russia. He regularly takes part via video link at conferences, such as those in Geneva, Toronto and Texas. Recently, he even greeted a head of state, Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, as his guest. His forced stay in Moscow is therefore hardly hindering him in his mission for information.

But what have Snowden’s revelations actually managed to change so far? Outside of the U.S., the result is sobering. In Germany, the outcry over the practices of the NSA was particularly loud, but a planned no-spying agreement failed because of resistance from the United States. A parliamentary committee of inquiry into the question of the extent to which the NSA spied on Germany has so far not delivered any substantial results. Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and countries such as Brazil were temporarily damaged, but have now largely been repaired. Spying among friends has been forgiven. Within the U.S., the picture is mixed: Obama has largely ignored the suggestions of a group of experts on reforming the NSA. But with the U.S. Freedom Act, reforms have recently been adopted which will actually somewhat limit the powers of the intelligence agencies. Snowden and Obama were surprisingly in agreement in their judgment that this represents a breakthrough. But even if the legal basis for the mass archiving of data is limited, there are still legislative loopholes that allow the intelligence agencies continued access to large amounts of data. And the reform does not change anything at all about the fact that the NSA listens to and archives communications abroad.

With regard to politics, Snowden’s revelations may have caused an earthquake, but they have not started many balls rolling. However, the now 31-year-old has caused the wider public to rethink. Encrypted communication used to have the reputation as being something for computer nerds, with only conspiracy theorists claiming that the government was always listening in. Today, many information technology companies are equipping their mobile devices with encryption technology as standard equipment, so strong is the consumer demand for such software.

Snowden can put this new and healthy suspicion in the virtual world down to his credit. Since the terror attacks in 2001, the broader public has more than ever been reflecting on the changes they caused and discussing the conflict of interest between privacy and security. Societal pressure like this could also motivate further political reform, as happened recently with the U.S. Patriot Act. For Snowden himself, looking back two years must be more pleasant than looking two years ahead. This is when his visa for Moscow runs out – and when he faces the same fate as his compatriot Manning.

About this publication

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply