How Have Governments Around The World Responded To Snowden's Revelations?

from the you-can-probably-guess dept

With the passing of the first anniversary of Snowden’s disclosures, there are plenty of articles looking back over the extraordinary revelations. Naturally, these have tended to concentrate on what has happened in the US. But as we now know, essentially every country on the planet is subject to massive, continuous surveillance by the NSA and its Five Eyes allies. So how have those other nations responded to all these leaks during the last twelve months? A new report compiled by privacy expert Simon Davies attempts to answer that question, at least in part:

The report, “A Crisis of Accountability”, has been published by the Privacy Surgeon and is based on collaboration with expert contributors from eighteen countries. The analysis determined that a large majority of governments have not responded in any “tangible, measurable way” to the disclosures that began in June 2013.

The report notes that while there has been a notable volume of “activity” in the form of diplomatic representations, parliamentary inquiries, media coverage, campaign strategies, draft legislation and industry initiatives, there has — at the global level — been an insignificant number of tangible reforms adopted to address the concerns raised by the disclosures. Two thirds of legal professionals and technology experts from 29 countries surveyed for the report said that they could recall no tangible measure taken by government.

However, there is some good news:

Despite this inactivity, the Snowden disclosures have triggered a noticeable shift in thinking across the world toward increased awareness of the importance of accountability, transparency and the rule of law with regard to both the activities of security agencies and the value of privacy. This shift — in many parts of the world — has empowered civil society, created a resurgence of interest in legal protections and sensitised media to key issues that have hitherto escaped public scrutiny at any substantial level.

Against this dismal background, the US emerges as one of the brighter spots (which should tell you how dire it is elsewhere):

The Snowden disclosures were met with a broad-based outpouring of outrage in the United States, with the criticism focused mostly on the privacy rights of US citizens. Media coverage was generally highly critical, with national media outlets such as the Washington Post, New York Times, ProPublica and Mother Jones publishing some of the disclosed documents. The disclosures also triggered numerous protests and grassroots campaigns, at least 6 lawsuits aimed at stopping NSA mass surveillance and several legislative proposals aimed at modifying NSA surveillance. The disclosures of the NSA’s domestic spying programs, particularly the telephone call detail records collection program, have started a national conversation on both domestic and foreign surveillance policies. However, thus far, none of the surveillance reforms have been aimed at stopping the bulk collection of communications of non-US persons.

That last point is important: in all the moves to reform surveillance of Americans, however halting, little is being done to increase respect for the rights of law-abiding citizens outside the US — who still form the vast majority of the world’s population.

By contrast with the US, its main partner-in-surveillance, the UK, comes out of the report pretty badly:

Despite facing significant pressure in the wake of the Snowden revelations — one of the largest leaks of classified material in history that revealed the secret mass surveillance apparatus run by GCHQ – the [UK] Government has responded with silence, obfuscation and secrecy.

Although rather depressing at times, the new report represents a valuable source of expert opinion from around the globe, with a wealth of useful references. It also offers a starting point for further action:

The data in this report may help indicate some other important pathways to future action for reform. One of the most significant of these relates to interactivity between different strands of the reform community. Civil society and the tech community have not adequately adapted to the challenges raised by the Snowden revelations. For example, the interface and the communications between policy reform (e.g. efforts to create greater accountability measures, privacy regulations) and technical privacy solutions (e.g. designing stronger embedded security) are worryingly inconsistent and patchy. Few channels of communication and information exchange exist between these disparate communities.

Let’s hope a similar study in twelve months’ time will be able to report on progress on these and other approaches to reining in the blanket global surveillance revealed by Snowden a year ago.

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Comments on “How Have Governments Around The World Responded To Snowden's Revelations?”

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That One Guy (profile) says:

Hard to get worked up over something you already knew about.

The reason most governments aren’t making more than empty statements is that they knew full well what was going on, and in most cases were involved themselves in what was happening.

The only people that didn’t know were the public, and the governments would rather like to keep it that way, so the less said the better as far as they’re concerned.

DocGerbil100 (profile) says:


I’m not convinced that assertions of malicious intent are entirely well-founded in the case of some governments. I live in the UK and our parliament has a strong tendency to keep the more technical branches of government very much at arms length – and this seems to me to include groups like GCHQ.

If it doesn’t result in a happy photo-op, or a slew of postive, vote-winning headlines, I can’t see the average cabinet minister giving two sharp tugs on a dead dogs cock about what our spies get up to.

From a previous Techdirt article, I recall that the one person most directly responsible for oversight of the department seemed to be a witless fop with no clue about much of anything at all.

Based on the way things work in Parliament generally, and on the limited responses our government has given thus far, I get the distinct impression that almost nobody in government – with the possible exceptions of a select few that the intelligence community might be happy to be more open with – has the slightest idea what’s going on unless GCHQ goes out of it’s way to tell them.

It’s certainly not better – rather worse, if anything – but the endemic, bone-dead stupidity and ignorance in parliament is a different kind of problem from willful abuse – and we are likely to need a different approach, if we wish to find and reach an effective solution.

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve learned at least two things, looking back over the last year of Snowden revelations.

1. Only the laws of nature can prevent mass surveillance, not the laws of man. Meaning only encryption, not legislation, can stop it from happening.

2. Due to #1 being a universal truth, that means backdoors will be deployed in order to circumvent the laws of nature. So watch out for hardware and software backdoors. Only use secure FOSS encryption software, running on top of secure FOSS operating system, running on top of secure, well documented, hardware with FOSS firmware and drivers.

GEMont (profile) says:

Re: Minor addendum

Not a useless action at all.

It let them destroy the surveillance chips that are now installed in the factory on all new computer hardware components, that gives the Five Eyes direct access to any computer system made by any non-chinese manufacturer.

The newest chips are no-where near as obvious as the old ones mounted on the Guardian’s computers, because those were older originals that were installed manually during a midnight infiltration of the Guardian’s offices by GCHQ.

They were big and obviously additions to the motherboards, whereas the newest ones are actually standard component replacements – look-alikes that have additional capacity and function built in, so that visual inspection will no longer discover the ruse.

Ah progress!

Anonymous Coward says:

My comment didn’t show up. Just want to tell you skinny shit you are going to die. I know that’s what you want. But let’s say you die the way you like others to. Not threatening. Stay at home and good girl. Just can’t imagine you hurting baby girls. That’s what they are. Sorry you are too pathetic to even talk to someone your own age. You will learn.

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