Snowden: Ten Years After

Edward Snowden circa 2013
Edward Snowden via Wikimedia

It’s been a whole decade since Edward Snowden made waves by revealing the extent of surveillance conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA) on American citizens. Snowden’s act of whistleblowing sparked a global conversation about privacy, government surveillance, and the role of technology in our lives.

As a former employee of the NSA, Snowden leaked classified documents to journalists and exposed the agency’s mass surveillance programs, including the collection of phone records and internet communications. His revelations ignited a fierce debate about the balance between national security and individual privacy.

Many people hailed Snowden as a hero for exposing the government’s intrusion into people’s private lives, while others criticized him for jeopardizing national security. Snowden was charged with espionage and fled the country, seeking asylum in Russia, where he still resides today.

The impact of Snowden’s revelations has been profound. His disclosures led to changes in the law, including the USA Freedom Act, which ended the NSA’s bulk collection of phone records. Tech companies, such as Apple and Google, also implemented stronger encryption to protect their users’ data from government surveillance.

However, the debate about surveillance and privacy continues. In recent years, there have been concerns about the use of facial recognition technology, the collection of data by social media companies, and the government’s ability to access encrypted communications.

And privacy conversations have now entered our schools. With the mass emergency learning that took place during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, schools en masse expanded their usage of software that effectively spies on students while they use school-issued devices. Now that schools have returned to in-person learning, much of that software remains in place.

I understand why schools use this software (full disclosure: my own school district uses a system to block access to certain sites and actively monitors student usage) and have seen that it can be helpful when students need help outside of the school setting. However, using these tools must be constrained to protecting students and not for teachers and administrators to play “gotcha.”

Privacy is the ultimate issue of our time for every person who accesses the Internet. There is no substitute for protecting privacy at all costs.

Ten years after Snowden’s revelations, it’s clear that his actions sparked a valuable conversation about government surveillance and privacy. While opinions about Snowden himself may be divided, there’s no denying the impact he’s had on the world.

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