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The Snowden Effect

SnowdenEffect

I’ve never met Edward Snowden, so please understand that I’m not trying to besmirch his character. And the truth is that I was thrilled when his disclosures hit. I was managing a professional-level VPN and traveling widely, warning people (who were often skeptical) about state-level surveillance. Edward Snowden vindicated me.

But it’s now becoming clear that there is a serious down-side to the Snowden disclosures. I’ve been noticing it in my work at Cryptohippie and it has recently started to appear in scholarly literature.

For example, a new study from Oxford University (read about it here) shows that mass surveillance makes people less likely to read about surveillance topics online, and significantly so. Even page-viewing on Wikipedia has been affected.

A second study, from MIT, showed a “substantial empirical… chilling effect.” The study goes on to say that this chilling effect seems related to an “increased awareness of government surveillance.”

In other words, Snowden’s proof of surveillance made people turn away from the entire discussion. And there’s a reason for this.

Sooner Or Later, the Sword Must Be Seen

Again, I am not implying that this was Ed Snowden’s intent, but the fact remains that mass surveillance is never more than half-effective until people know about it. Consider this, please:

Every ruling regime (republic, monarchy, whatever) is fully dependent upon their subjects obeying them: Without obedience, no government could survive.

The ruled, at some places and times more than others, will obey because they feel it’s their duty. But the rest of the time, fear is required. How many Americans, for example, would pay more than minimal levels of income tax if they didn’t fear the IRS?

So, given the current consensus that politicians are liars at best, instilling fear would seem necessary for any state to function.

The Snowden revelations made Joe and Jane Average face the threat of surveillance, often against their will. In other words, they were force-fed a new reason to be afraid. As a result, they pulled back from thinking on the subject, turning away from another class of things that might get them into trouble.

Civic propaganda aside, we all know that the true operating principle of government is mandatory compliance. We also know that ‘mandatory’ has sharp teeth; that’s why we lower our voices when complaining about the IRS or the FBI.

So, now that NSA surveillance is undeniable – now that the sword is seen – Mr. and Ms. Average have closed themselves down that much further. That’s what I’m referring to as the Snowden Effect.

Given What the Averages Know…

By no means do I mean to imply that Joe and Jane Average are stupid. They are not. My description of them as “average” is merely descriptive: in reality, these are the people who make the world work. But they are also intimidated, distracted, and poorly informed. They don’t know that avoiding surveillance is even possible.

The problem, however, is even worse than ignorance: Snowden, or at least the people who spread his disclosures, have consistently delivered a backward message: that the solution lies not in technology, but in politics… and that’s about the worst message they could have delivered.

Technological solutions can actually work. Pursuing a political solution, on the other hand, is like running through quicksand: no matter how much you thrash about, you never actually reach the other side. As a result, we’re left with people who could escape the surveillance threat, but don’t, because they treat politics as an effective tool.

But again, Joe and Jane are not stupid; they know that politics never really solves their problems, they just don’t believe they have an alternative. And so, they try to live within ever-tighter limits.

Given that Averages are right to avoid government retribution, and given that they have no idea how to protect themselves, this choice is not irrational. Everything in their environment assures them that closing down a little more the safest option.

What Now?

So, we have a hundred fifty million people – basically decent people – who are now aware of a new reason to fear. There is an escape from it, but since it’s never authorized by politicians, broadcasters or Facebook, they’re afraid to look at it. “Unauthorized” means “I could get in trouble,” and they already have too many threats to deal with.

What, then, is to be done?

To begin with, people need to understand that they can protect themselves… that it’s not particularly hard or expensive. (I’ve recently addressed the technical details, so I won’t repeat them here.)

But even more essential than technology is to convince people they’re better than the game they’ve been playing: That the system they’re chained to isn’t worthy of them.

These people have to see that they’re being played: that they’re being frightened on purpose; that the system is designed to bleed them dry; that the system couldn’t survive if they were happy, confident and thoughtful.

Once Joe and Jane Average start trusting themselves and thinking for themselves, they’ll take purposeful actions rather than being herded into conformity. And when that happens, this problem and many others will start fading away.

Please do whatever you can.

* * * * *

If you’ve enjoyed Free-Man’s Perspective or A Lodging of Wayfaring Men, you’re going to love Paul Rosenberg’s new novel, The Breaking Dawn.

It begins with an attack that crashes the investment markets, brings down economic systems, and divides the world. One part is dominated by mass surveillance and massive data systems: clean cities and empty minds… where everything is assured and everything is ordered. The other part is abandoned, without services, with limited communications, and shoved 50 years behind the times… but where human minds are left to find their own bearings.

You may never look at life the same way again.

Get it now at Amazon ($18.95) or on Kindle: ($5.99)

TheBreakingDawn

* * * * *

Paul Rosenberg
www.freemansperspective.com

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  • Shadow Warrior

    Good day Paul. There are a few things I’d like to point out regarding this article and a few other observations I’d like to share. 1st, this “fear” mentality is propagated by MSM. They only feed that emotion without giving any recourse or solution. This leads the general public to ONLY have their own “skewed” perspective give in to a hopelessness or worse. We, as humans are flawed. This condition is exploited. Endlessly exploited. Without actually having any viable solutions offered, then it’s left to the individual to either rely on government OR a narrowed, and with the lack of truth & uncensored facts, draw inaccurate conclusions. This leads to bad decisions all around. Snowden, gave us truth. In an earlier age, most would have actually risen up and “revolted” against this form of intrusive behavior. Now, with police killings, mass arrests of non-violent protesters and even the occasional “False-Flag” events, have misled the public and suppressed those necessary attributes (opposing tyranny & overreach) I’ve noticed some cycles over the course of our documented human history (as much as it’s been censored-edited-just outright lies) Empires rise & fall, economies collapse, wars, poverty, starvation and so on, come & go. With the Internet, NOW we have a global observation machine. Yet this too is now becoming a tool for structured control & conditioning. Where is the truth? Photoshop, sensationalism, censorship, blocking websites and consumerism have a larger reach now. Again though, these will cycle. I believe that a coming generation might be our solution, but again you can’t get past human flaws. Confidence, self-assured skepticism are what need taught & encouraged. Blind trust is ridiculous. Government in any fashion leads to oppression. Laws do nothing more than deny freedoms. Violence, theft, aggression are not dissuaded by laws, They merely provide a “penalty” and allowance for police violence & aggression. There will always be criminals. More laws, surveillance and war will never provide any utopia… Human flaws & human nature… There might be less, if greedy corporations, irresponsible media and government were FORCED, in some way, to be held accountable… But Germany,Russia, China and now the US have shown this won’t happen. Human emotion, sentiment and ego have been manipulated for decades and we are here now on a precipice…I have no answers. I, like most see it, but have no power to change it as an individual. I hope it doesn’t become Armageddon, but I don’t have control of the “button” nor those who do…But if one man, can order the annihilation of over 250,000 humans by 2 nuclear bombs… it’s clear those in power think very little of their fellow humans…

  • Samarami

    Shadow Warrior has made astute observations. I definitely agree with her or his premise:

    “…Confidence, self-assured skepticism are what need (to be) taught &
    encouraged. Blind trust is ridiculous. Government in any fashion leads
    to oppression. Laws do nothing more than deny freedoms. Violence,
    theft, aggression are not dissuaded by laws, They merely provide a
    “penalty” and allowance for police violence & aggression. There
    will always be criminals. More laws, surveillance and war will never
    provide any utopia…”

    I also soundly agree with your conclusion, Paul:

    “…Once Joe and Jane Average start trusting themselves and thinking for
    themselves, they’ll take purposeful actions rather than being herded
    into conformity. And when that happens, this problem and many others
    will start fading away…”

    My ongoing message is that I can be free. Here. Today. Where I’m “at”. Not only can I be free, but my freedom is essential for you and any relationship you and I have. I have no power to change the psychopaths who hide under the brainless abstraction called “government”. But I do have the power to deliver my personal message to you.

    I can run, but I can’t hide. I can encrypt myself to the extent that nobody anywhere will be capable of hearing my message unless they have my key. If highly successful, most won’t even know I have a message to deliver.

    I am a sovereign state. As such, I am responsible for my own behavior. But I am also responsible for the relationship I have with you, with my family, my neighbors and my friends.

    And I am responsible for the message. The message can be summed up here:

    https://mises.org/library/politics-obedience-discourse-voluntary-servitude

    Étienne de La Boétie’s message is as pertinent today, in this high-tech world in which we live, as it was when he penned it nearly 500 years ago. Sam

  • JdL

    Interesting thoughts, Paul.

    the fact remains that mass surveillance is never more than half-effective until people know about it.

    It’s also a fact that if people know nothing about mass surveillance, they can take no steps against it. At least after Snowden, they know enough to be afraid. That’s an essential step in the right direction.

  • Barry Alexander

    What is your thought on UNSEEN.IS as an email provider and a messaging and chat platform??

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