Si Min Chew
The abuses of power of the government in the digital realm has escalated to immense proportions. In the US, under the outdated Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (“CFAA”), the US government exercises overreach and misuses the law to cover situations that were never meant for its purview when the law was passed in 1986. Using the umbrella term of a “national security threat”, the CIA and NSA conducts mass surveillance of its own citizens and that of other countries too, amassing mass amounts of data of e-mail addresses, phone numbers and use of Internet data. Yet the big question is why does the NSA’s surveillance program capture more data on innocent Americans than on its intended foreign targets? The country has moved from the traditional notion of targeted surveillance to these mass surveillance efforts that were not even able to prevent the Boston Marathon bombings despite warnings from the Russian intelligence service to the FBI. The focus has been lost.
Today, technology is the greatest equalizer in human history, a tool that the people may use to stand up to the government. Authorities know this and fear it. Can individuals be trusted with the power of technology for creative means and not destruction? According to whistleblower Edward Snowden, it should be the people, not the government who decide. He gave information to the people so we may make a choice about the country we want to live in. A democracy facing occasional risk that is unpredictable or a more controlled society that is less free?
Internet freedom advocate Aaron Swartz said in his last interview that the Internet represents both the good—a provider of freedom—and also the bad—control and surveillance. “Both are amazing and great, but the question is which do we want to (emphasize)?” The power of the Internet gives power to the people and the government, and the latter has “assumed upon itself, in secret, new executive powers without any public awareness or any public consent and used them against the citizenry of its own country to increase its own power, to increase its own awareness.”(Snowden, 2014) We are now in a position where governments do many things in secret that compromise the people’s privacy. That in essence, represents a battle between security and liberty.
The pursuit of interests has become one that is focused on the state, not the nation. Now the public must champion its own interests. The persecution and indictment of hacktivists such as Jeremy Hammond, the late Aaron Swartz, Julian Assange and Edward Snowden, reflect the prioritization of government and corporate interests over individual rights. The truth needs to be told. The people should be the ones wielding the power in a democracy. The Internet gives us this power to leverage the playing field that has been dominated for so long. The information whistleblowers have revealed show the government’s misdeeds and their covert actions without our approval. Their acts of speaking out provide another platform and a new wave of indignation to ride on, for us ordinary people to act and protest for greater transparency. We can make the government listen to what we decide. We need to educate ourselves to discern the information that is presented to us, understand the history of our countries and become active political participants. The media should be a check against the government. Public-interest journalism should be protected all over the world. We can help to defend that through our readership and spreading the word around. Let us stand up everywhere to fight for the democracy we want. Everything big starts from the smallest actions. It starts with us.