Today saw the unveiling of the NSA leaker, Edward Snowden, a highschool dropout that worked his way through sheer capabilities as a programmer. To me this guy is pretty amazing. He cares about the people that he could have put in harms way, he made sure that he did not release any information that would put anyone in harms way, even though he had the capabilities. He learned from Bradley Manning and worked to ensure there would be no risks of physical injury. He felt that these actions violated the constitution and decided to expose these deeds to the public even though he knew his life was over. He believes he's likely to be targeted by the US government or an agent, such as a member of the Triad gang (he's in Hong Kong), to be executed.
Not only he is clearly concerned, but the media seems to think that this is also true. My roommate was watching ABC news with Diane Sawyer and during one segue she mentioned that he may have left because he feared for his life and was likely in danger. Think about it. It's publicly acknowledged by our press, that it's likely a whistleblower might be killed by the US government. This is a US citizen that has a family history of serving (father a member of the coast guard and mother a legal clerk) the US government. He is afraid for his life because he believes that the US government would murder him. If he dies and his body is found the blame will automatically fall upon the government. Edward will not be able to answer phone calls, call anyone, and is essentially on his own to make it to a country that has no extradition treaty with the US. This is a travesty - the fact that many people believe this man is going to die within the next few weeks - killed by his own government without his right to a trial.
Why does what he said matter? A lot of people are talking about it being only Metadata - here's an excellent article explaining what would have happened if the British had meta data during the revolutionary war. It would have ID'd Paul Revere as a likely revolutionary based on his association. Knowing nothing else about him other than a few clubs he and 254 other people in Boston were members of it was possible to deduce the entire social network and who was at the center of the networks.
As I mentioned in my last blog post this network analysis would have caused the changes in my Facebook network to raise some red flags. I suddenly move to Europe (I didn't list Eindhoven has my city of residence it would have been inferred from my friends), some of my first connects in Europe on Facebook were 2 Colombians, 2 Pakistanis, an Iranian, and a Turk. These changes represented a major shift in my circle of friends. I had few non-americans as friends and no Iranians or Pakistanis in my network. Using the full history of my data they wouldn't have found much except that I liked to drink and wrote drunk posts on Facebook while in college. However, it's likely I would have remained someone to keep an eye on, and since then I've written numerous posts about Anonymous, LulzSec and other controversial topics.
Anyway, it's important to keep this in mind when selecting the companies you decide to store your information with, even if it's "only" metadata. Where you go, who you talk to, and what you do online are all representations of you and a lot of information can be gleaned from that.
What can we do? Vote all the bums out of office next go around for one. Start companies that only hand over encrypted data that the end users are the only ones that can decrypt it. Educate your friends, family, co-workers, and anyone politically minded you know. We need to drive change otherwise this will continue and will only get worse. At what point do we need to start worrying that the NSA/US Government will start killing your friends because of who they talk to and what they believe?