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Op-Ed | We are all Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning

Published: Monday, September 9, 2013

Updated: Monday, September 9, 2013 01:09


Last Tuesday, the first class of my senior year was “Introduction to Computer Security,” a class about the ideas and techniques involved in protecting computers and other digital systems from intrusions and misuse. Members of the class were discussing recent events in the security world. I immediately thought of Edward Snowden and Chelsea Manning, currently in exile and prison, respectively, as I’m sure many of my peers did.

Manning and Snowden both worked in the intelligence field and were given high-level security clearances to computer systems that enabled them to view classified documents. When Manning and Snowden chose to become whistleblowers, they proved that no matter how secure a computer system is made, there can never be a way to guard against the human elements involved in the system itself. During the course of their work, they learned that their respective employers had been or are currently engaged in secret activities that each found reprehensible and worthy of public disclosure. Their actions were an attempt to bring a level of transparency and accountability to the government programs and actions they had revealed.

While pondering the relationship between computer security and Snowden and Manning, I read an email from the Tufts administration calling for nominations from the community for honorary degree candidates. My mind began to wander from whistleblowers to thoughts of other prestigious awards. I remembered that in 2009 the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to newly-elected President Barack Obama “for his extraordinary efforts to strengthen international diplomacy and cooperation between peoples.”

The recent revelations about our government activities under President Obama’s leadership do not fall in line with the Nobel Committee’s citation. According to documents leaked by Snowden, the U.S. government has failed to comply with international norms and agreements with our allies as well as violated a vital trust between itself and its citizens. The National Security Agency (NSA) has been bugging European Union and United Nations offices in New York and Washington, D.C., engaging in surreptitious interception of communications into and out of the United States, collecting the Internet communications of American citizens that are stored on the private servers of American technology companies without warrants and deliberately weakening standard and widely-used encryption techniques that are important to the Internet.

On Aug. 9, President Obama said, “I think the main thing I want to emphasize is I don’t have an interest and the people at the NSA don’t have an interest in doing anything other than making sure that where we can prevent a terrorist attack, where we can get information ahead of time, that we’re able to carry out that critical task.” Despite this stated goal, the NSA has continued to spy on some of the U.S.’s most important allies, nations and organizations that are in no way sponsors of terrorism.

Members of the European Parliament called on the President to appear before the body to address allegations of NSA spying on European Union (EU) embassies. Others went as far as to call for giving Snowden asylum somewhere in the EU. Sophie in ‘t Veld, a Dutch Member of the European Parliament, has stated that the EU must “no longer tolerate U.S. laws being applied directly on EU territories — I don’t want to hear the arguments of national security anymore.”

As its digital surveillance programs grew, the U.S. government bet heavily upon the general public’s ignorance of the ease with which it could spy on both domestic and international Internet traffic. While the Internet continues to be more integral to our daily lives, little consideration has yet been given to the dearth of transparency, oversight and regulation with respect to the U.S. government’s relationship with the Internet. Rather, the NSA has been slowly developing into a force that will be described as Orwellian if it is not stymied by precise legislation and vigilant oversight. As the most significant whistleblowers of the 21st century so far, Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden relinquished the potential for happy and peaceful lives in order to spark a public dialogue that both felt would serve the greater good.

The surveillance programs operated by the NSA are inconsistent with what is expected from an executive branch helmed by a Nobel Peace Prize winner. This stands in contrast to Manning and Snowden who have both taken actions aimed at correcting what they feel are injustices. Over the summer, the Swedish Internet service provider that once hosted Wikileaks’ servers recommended Snowden to the Nobel Committee for the 2013 Peace Prize. The ISP’s CEO said, “To be honest, I don’t have high hopes. But at least it’s possible to suggest.” Since Chelsea Manning’s arrest in 2009, individuals and organizations around the world have been calling for her nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Tufts University confers honorary degrees to “recognize extraordinary talents and contributions” on “those who have not yet received other recognition commensurate with their accomplishments.” Earlier this year, Tufts gave an honorary degree to Aso Tavitian who, among many other accomplishments, helped found a company that produces data-protection software. This demonstrated a respect for the integrity and safety of electronic data. By giving an honorary degree to Snowden and Manning, the Tufts community would declare its respect for two individuals who gave the world evidence of the abuse of governmental power and the illegal collection of electronic data and are now paying the price.

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