Friday, March 21, 2014

Snowden: What have we learnt?

“There can be no faith in government if our highest offices are excused from scrutiny - they should be setting the example of transparency.” – Edward Snowden, 2013.

The topic of data security and privacy has captured plenty of headlines and column inches since Edward Snowden’s revelations regarding the NSA collecting large-scale data on individuals – and questions have been raised about the way that we trust our governments and businesses to handle our information.

Individual privacy vs national security?

One of the main points that arose from Snowden’s revelations is the balance between individual privacy and national security. While governments need to take measures to ensure that national security is not compromised and their borders are protected, has this pursuit taken priority over the privacy rights of the individual?

The mass collection of data has raised questions, with some calling it a waste of resources and others saying it damages communication security at the expense of protecting individuals’ information.

In this current era of the internet, social sharing is now commonplace, with people using social networks to share intimate details of their everyday lives. However, this shouldn’t negate the fact that our national governments are collecting huge stores of data with no clear or intended purpose in the interests of national security. In his TED Talk, Mikko Hypponen makes an interesting point about individual privacy, stating that it should be “non-negotiable and built into all of the systems we use”. But how clear are national governments and businesses being with our information?

Transparency – clear as mud?

The bond of trust is one that is built through an exchange of honesty and openness between the individual and the entity in question. Upon reflection of Snowden’s revelations last summer, there are still challenges that governments and organisations face with the collection and storage of data.

As mentioned in a previous post, the US Patriot Act has implications for how data is stored and accessed; an issue that is also currently being debated within European Parliament. Companies such as Google and Microsoft are already taking into consideration where data is stored, with the former encrypting searches and the latter offering overseas data storage in response to NSA concerns. However, other challenges include:
  • The need to ensure the data about individuals that is collected and stored is kept secure and only shared with trusted people and organisations
  • Making sure people are trained and educated in data protection
  • Ensuring data is used for specific purposes only
  • Keeping accountability and transparency paramount
The impact of Snowden’s revelations has been far reaching, with the issues of privacy, national security and transparency ever-changing. What is important is keeping in mind the people who are affected by these issues, ensuring that they are well-protected and that their individual rights are being considered with the strictest confidence.

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