You have built the world’s most high-tech and biggest surveillance network, which can spy on people across the world. It can unravel people’s lives within minutes, take away any privacy a person may have with just one secret order. But it is for, you argue, the national security and to fight against terrorism. It won’t be misused, you say. What can go wrong? Donald Trump.
As America voted to make Donald Trump the country’s next president, the nightmare that Edward Snowden, who worked with America’s and the world’s biggest spy agency National Security Agency (NSA), predicted is seemingly coming true.
After the NSA leaks, Snowden spoke to the Guardian for a fairly lengthy interview. In it he said:
“And the months ahead, the years ahead it’s only going to get worse until eventually there will be a time where policies will change (due to a new leader)… a new leader will be elected, they’ll find the switch, say that ‘Because of the crisis, because of the dangers we face in the world, some new and unpredicted threat, we need more authority, we need more power.’ And there will be nothing the people can do at that point to oppose it. And it will be turnkey tyranny.”
Snowden unraveled many major digital surveillance operations that the NSA was, and is, running. But even as there was an uproar against how little privacy protection people had after the Snowden leaks, there was also an argument that it would not be misused or that it was only to fight the good fight for the national security. Also, there was an argument, especially among the US commentators, that the NSA surveillance didn’t concern them because the American citizens were protected by the law from it.
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The problem, however, now is that all of these major digital surveillance capabilities built by the NSA in the last one decade will be available to Trump. And these are frightening capabilities. Whatever Snowden revealed is almost apocalyptic. But it might not be all. As world’s biggest and most advanced spy agency, NSA may have even more advanced tools, something straight from a Jason Bourne film.
It is entirely possible that Trump’s government will not abuse the massive surveillance tools that it now controls. But then with Trump nothing is certain. It is also entirely possible that all of these fascinating tools that Americans used to spy on Afghanistan — and India — in future may be used to monitor civil rights activists, journalists, politicians, lawyers and anyone who has been deemed “the enemy of state” and who lives within the country.
Irrespective of what comes true and what doesn’t, one thing is clear — Snowden’s worst nightmare, of a world where there is just no privacy may come true if the Trump administration decides to use the NSA tools.
It happens all too often. When the countries and governments come out with laws or mechanisms that are overly broad, there is always a risk of them being misused at some point of time, even if the original idea behind them is something as noble as national security or equality. As it is famously said, “the road to the hell is paved with good intentions”. The NSA surveillance mechanism too might have been built with good thoughts. But then good intentions don’t stop bad deeds when the policies and leaders change.