On June 5, 2013, The Guardian revealed the first in a series of classified National Security Agency (NSA) document leaks provided by former government contractor Edward Snowden. The first document we saw contained an order requiring Verizon to hand over all customer metadata on “an ongoing, daily basis” to the NSA and FBI, a surveillance program as egregious as it is disproportionate. The leaked documents that followed revealed further evidence of widespread user surveillance and bulk data collection by the NSA and Britain’s GCHQ. These included tapping into Apple, Google, and Microsoft servers and listening in on private mobile phone and Skype calls. Across the world, internet users and foreign government officials alike soon learned that they were unknowing targets of NSA spying tactics.
On today’s anniversary, Access’ staff reflects on the ways in which these reports have impacted the way we approach and understand technology and our work in protecting user rights worldwide:
“The NSA revelations have deeply expanded the scope and range of Access’ work and campaigns. We push for increased encryption on the web – through our Encrypt All the Things campaign – and provide a 24 hour Global Digital Security Helpline to help online activists in need. Access wants grassroots activists around the world to know that they are no longer alone; we will continue to advocate for greater privacy protections and mobilize for global digital rights alongside them.”
– Brett Solomon, Access Executive Director
“Since the Snowden revelations began, the demand for our 24/7 Global Digital Security Helpline has skyrocketed. We have received a flood of help requests from groups concerned about their exposure to the revealed digital security threats.”
– Gustaf Björksten, Access Technology Director
“The human rights that are negatively impacted by surveillance are some of the most treasured and the most easily invaded. As we mark the one year anniversary of the first Snowden revelation and reflect on what we know now, we can see that the discourse has fundamentally changed, and that we are making headway in the fight to limit how States spy on the users of the world.”
– Jochai Ben-Avie, Access Policy Director
“Snowden’s revelations are a wake up call for many citizens around the world that have been indiscriminately put under surveillance. Online users suffer under surveillance from their own governments and by foreign entities, against which they cannot seek judicial redress.”
– Estelle Massé, Access Junior Policy Analyst
“The revelations have publicly exposed the insatiable appetite of governments to ‘know everything.’ While the Snowden revelations have definitely changed the discourse in Europe, much work still lies ahead. Now it’s up to all of us to make sure this knowledge translates into action, for without privacy and due process, we are not free to create, experiment, or express ourselves.”
– Raegan MacDonald, Access European Policy Manager
“The NSA revelations clearly impact how African civil society actors conduct their activism. African activists, many for the first time, have realized that they need to be more proactive in taking care of their online security by using tools such as PGP, OTR, and Tails.”
– Ephraim Percy Kenyanito, Access Internet Governance Reform Fellow
“We are no longer voices in the wilderness. Advocates for human rights online have a clear enemy and mission that many more people understand and support. Pervasive surveillance is no longer something that only affects terrorists or people “over there” it affects all of us.”
– Peter Micek, Access Policy Counsel
“Uncovering just a little bit of the government surveillance iceberg has opened up these important issues to a much larger public audience. The first year of revelations has shown us what we’re up against in the battle against mass spying, but it has also made the fight a little bit easier.”
– Amie Stepanovich, Access Senior Policy Counsel
What we know now in regards to unauthorized surveillance is just the tip of the iceberg. The bulk of the documents Snowden collected have yet to be released, belying the existence of more secret NSA surveillance programs and violations of our rights not yet disclosed. While internet users continue to live under the reality of pervasive surveillance, there are ways to protect ourselves online.
Over the past year, encrypted internet traffic has more than doubled, clearly the result of users’ and businesses’ (such as Google and FaceBook) actions to protect their online activities in a post-Snowden world.
Access encourages users to educate themselves about encryption, utilize software to encrypt their online activities and communications, and call on tech companies to take action to encrypt user data. Visit EncryptAllTheThings.net to learn more about the Data Security Action Plan, seven security- enhancing steps that every internet platform should take to safeguard our data, and show your support for robust encryption.
What we know now illustrates how much our rights are at risk today. In the coming year, Access will continue to push governments forward on real surveillance reform. It’s hard to predict what we’ll know next year, but as further revelations come to light, we’ll continue to fight users all over the world. Access’ nimble team stands on the frontlines, pushing back against the NSA’s and others’ efforts to erode our rights and undermine the free and open internet.