Edward Snowden on the connection between coronavirus and total surveillance
Edward Snowden on the connection between coronavirus and total surveillance

Former CIA and NSA agent Edward Snowden believes that the "temporary" tough measures adopted by the governments of many countries under the pretext of limiting the spread of coronavirus may become permanent. One of these measures was, in particular, the US government's proposed tracking of the movements of citizens in order to monitor the spread of coronavirus (a similar Government Decree was signed at the end of March by Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin).

However, short-term incarceration can easily turn into long-term incarceration, Snowden warns.

Soon, the special services will find application for new technologies. Once the crisis is over, governments can enact new laws to make temporary emergency measures permanent and use them against dissidents and dissidents.

“The coronavirus is a serious problem. But this problem is passing. Humanity will either invent a vaccine or develop herd immunity. Within three years, the problem will disappear. But the consequences of the decisions we are making now will remain forever. And I think that this is a key point affecting the prospects for a free society. The virus is damaging, but the destruction of human rights is a grave mistake. It will be a permanent phenomenon that we will not be able to play back.

We all remember revolutions, movements of freedom fighters - resistance grew for hundreds of years before triumphing. And if we lose everything we have won in one short moment of panic … I see a direct parallel here with the events of September 11, 2001. The emergence of the Patriot Act, mass surveillance, torture camp for dissenters around the globe …

In the wake of general panic, you begin to pursue policies that pursue your selfish interests. You justify any cruelty and violence with emergency measures, saying that otherwise you will not cope with threats and dangers.

Emergency situations stretch out for a long time, and the authorities become comfortable with their new opportunities. They're starting to like it. The coronavirus is passing, international terrorism is no longer so relevant, and then the authorities begin to find new reasons to preserve the powers that they have given themselves. They start talking like: why should we give up this experience, let's better legalize it in a new normative act. And we see that they are doing just that - in all countries. This is not at all some American peculiarity. A culture of "security at any cost" is being imposed on the world. They say: if there is even the slightest risk, we need to reduce it to the lowest possible level, and this must be done at any cost.

I believe this is a fundamental conflict that hinders the building of a free and open society. Today it is not very popular to talk about this topic - objections from the series “security is more important than privacy” immediately appear. Of course, in a free society, we need to have both. But for us, the priority is the creation of public order, not the protection of individual or collective goods. If we now begin to destroy the rights of citizens, trying to improve something, we will actually only make the situation worse.

Artificial intelligence is being used today to promote continuous surveillance of citizens online as a boon. He promises many impossible things. Someone tells you: look, the machine will be able to determine your sexual orientation by facial expressions.This, of course, should amuse us, but we must understand that the authorities prefer to work according to this algorithm. They love to prioritize efficiency and problem prevention. But in a free society, efficiency is actually dangerous. We want to limit its criteria in every possible way, otherwise you can see a potential threat in almost every person. He is a likely criminal, and therefore he must be defeated in his rights for preventive purposes.

We stand for the collection of serious evidence and a strictly evidence-based approach in the prosecution, for limiting situations for which a person can be imprisoned, for strict regulation of cases when the authorities can use armed force against citizens. In general, we put up a barrier against the use of force, because this is the only way to guarantee freedom. If you concentrate too much power in one hand, it is called tyranny.

Considering the example of legalizing the surveillance of US citizens through mobile phones, I can see that this opens up a lot of new opportunities. You can follow all the interests and emotional state of people, their comments in communities. And to sort citizens by conditional reliability groups.

If you just follow the movements of coronavirus patients and see that they have decided to take a walk in a crowded place, then such control seems appropriate and effective. But look at what happens in practice. Previously, the government looked after everyone as if from the outside - they could know what products and goods we buy, what hobby we have, what sites on the Internet we go to. Now they are invading the sphere of our health, they already want to know our physical condition, in the literal sense, what is happening under our skin.

If we allow all this and say to the government: it is necessary, now you can monitor every telephone of every citizen in real time, we thereby give the go-ahead for the adoption of certain measures arising from the information received about the person. What prevents them from saying then: okay, what about public health? We must protect everyone around us … The main primary symptom of coronavirus is fever, high temperature. Why shouldn't everyone wear electronic bracelets, like fitness trackers, that would tell us data on temperature, heart rate … Let's keep an eye on everyone who has a sharp increase in heart rate. Then, after a couple of years, the coronavirus will disappear, and they will say: look, a group of dangerous terrorists is hiding in our country, they are spreading propaganda on the Internet. And in the end, only the official media approved by the authorities remain, which broadcast to the population only one, as it were, "correct" agenda.

What is happening today? The authorities can already easily find out where you are, which sites you visit. Then your health status is connected. And so artificial intelligence ties all these parameters together and begins to note your emotions of anger while watching the official propaganda news. Or, for example, you are watching a speech by a representative of the ruling party from Parliament and they see your excitement.

Emotions can be easily measured and recorded using modern sensors. And they say: behold, this man is a danger to us. We need to create problems for him at work, check his bank accounts …

What happens when you build an architecture of personal suppression as an instrument of power? When an authoritarian leader comes to power, he will definitely use it to suppress rights and freedoms. And what about the citizens? They simply will not be able to coordinate in any way, because the authorities already know their location, their chats, their circle of acquaintances and all the nearest plans. The police will not even have to go anywhere - they will simply block all your accounts, be fired from your job, close access to public transport - and that's it.

And our world drifts in that direction every day, because we allow panic to drive all our decisions. We don’t even think about the real consequences of restricting our rights,”Snowden said in an interview with the organizers of the Copenhagen International Documentary Film Festival CPH: DOX.

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