Edward Snowden and the NSA

This is obviously the most significant item of transparency news over the last few weeks, and it’s a little remiss of me not to have blogged about it earlier.

I certainly admire Mr Snowden’s courage. I’m not sure I’d have done the same.

But there has been a lot of hysteria about snooping by the NSA; equally, in this country, there’s a lot of concern about the “snooper’s charter”, for which the security services are agitating.

It seems that what the NSA has done is pretty much what the security services want to do here, but which is being blocked by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition.

Let’s try to understand what it is they want.  They don’t want to be able to read our emails, but they do want to know who we’ve been emailing. If you stop to think about it, you can see why this is very useful intelligence. If you’ve got a suspect – a young lad behaving oddly at the mosque, say, and you put him under surveillance, then you’d like to know who he’s in touch with. Putting him in a network of connections is clearly very useful intelligence, and I’m not totally averse to the security services being able to do that. Smart use of intelligence is an important tool to combat the effects of terrorism.

Now the NSA would clearly rather we hadn’t known that they were able to do this, and again we can understand – because once the enemy knows what you can find out, he’ll take evasive action. But Edward Snowden thought that it was important that we (and therefore, the enemy) did understand what was being done.  I’m sure he’s right. I don’t think the damage to intelligence-gathering, understanding the networks of individuals and organisations concerned, will be that severe. Modern communication tools are too useful for people to do without, and the alternatives are too cumbersome.  In any case, if you  disrupt  the enemy’s communications, by forcing him to use other channels, you make life harder for him.



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