The Snowden Effect




How has the public, government and various businesses reacted to revelations of Edward Snowden, and what will be the continual effect of these reactions?”


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The quote above comes from George Orwell, writing in his book Nineteen Eighty Four (BBC, 2013). His book was published in 1948, now almost 70 years ago. The book experience ground-breaking success in the years after its release, with many people thinking about the world in a different way after having read it. Almost all those who read it, and have read it since, will agree it is a remarkable book (indeed it is reported that Winston Churchill himself said so (McMoran 1968, p.423)) but it has, and hopefully always will be, a work of fiction. Despite this, one key of element of the dystopian land inhabited by Winston Smith was proven disturbingly true by a young systems analyst from the National Security Agency in America. Unfortunately for the powers that be across the globe, Edward Snowden was about to prove pubically George Orwell’s prediction about constant surveillance spectacularly right.

Through the Guardian newspaper and its sister site, Guardian US, Edward Snowden and his team of Glenn Greenwald (an investigative journalist) and Laura Portas (a documentary film maker) revealed an extensive web of government surveillance, that was at best frowned upon, at worst distinctly illegal and unconstitutional. Through an amalgamation of wiretapping, legal arm-twisting and hacking of servers all over the globe the NSA, sometimes in partnership with other members of “Five Eyes” (most notably GCHQ in the UK) and sometimes not, were able to collect massive amounts of data. The amounts are so huge they would have been unimaginable just a couple of years before. The official party line (if you can call it that) was to deny all existence of these intelligence gathering programmes, but the sheer weight behind the revelations meant this was destined to fail.

Although the details of these surveillance programmes themselves are obviously very important on paper, it is the reaction of the public that is particularly interesting. I aim to investigate whether or not the revelations from Edward Snowden have changed the public mind-set and sparked the debate the young systems analyst was hoping for. I expect there to be a wide range of opinions on the behaviour of the NSA and GCHQ, since the behaviour is controversial in its nature and I have I have summarised these into three expected “pathways”:

  • The opinion that the spying programing has “not affected me since the government had no reason to collect my data as I am not doing anything illegal”
  • The opinion that the spying programming is “a gross invasion of civil liberties, and that the repeated denial of the government proves this”
  • The opinion that the government “has been, and still is, collecting my data. I have to take measures to avoid this, as it is distinctly unethical for the government to have any of my data.

Which of these above is the over-whelming opinion of the public, or if it is a totally different mind set, remains to be seen due to the recent nature of the events in this area. However, I am to investigate this question by studying newspaper reports, official documents from which Edward Snowden gained his information, internet forums and various books (written both before and after the event).



The Revelations and Story of Edward Snowden [1]

After Edward Snowden, who was previously an employee of Boonz Allen Hamilton at the NSA in Hawaii, travelled to Hong Kong with 4 laptops containing top-secret documents,Laura Potras and Glenn Greenwald flew to meet him. This then lead to the Guardian Newspaper publishing the first exclusive on the 5th of June 2013 (Greenwald, 2013) on the revelations; the release of a secret court order from the US government that “obligated” Verizon to hand over data (Vison, 2013). This was followed immediately by a report that outlined the details of the PRISM programme allowing the NSA access to companies’ data (Greenwald and MacAskill, 2013). The very next day, Barack Obama was defending the programmes that the Guardian had released to the public. He said that the programmes found the right balance, and that “you can’t have 100% security, and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience.” (Baker and Sanger, 2013). After this, followed a deluge of exclusive pieces written by Greenwald and the Guardian. These included the sharing of data between the NSA and GCHQ, cable tapping, warrantless data collection and the internal NSA tool Boundless Informant. (Gidda, 2013). As these pieces were being written, the government were scrambling for a response, much like Barack Obama, and also attempting to bring Snowden back to the US. After a difficult time in Hong Kong, Snowden left for Russia as the Hong Kong authorities claimed they had no basis from the US to prevent him from leaving (Branigan and Elder, 2013). The Russians originally denied that Snowden had landed there but this was quickly proven false, and that Snowden was in fact housed in Sheremetyevo airport. This then sparked off a political tug-of-war over whose responsibility Snowden was, and whether or not he would be extradited back to the US.

While a number of the main programmes from the NSA are outlined below, it is impossible to cover all of the documents that Snowden released, due to their sheer weight. The NSA was also involved in a number of special cases and one-offs, many of which also had doubtable legality, and these have not been outlined below.


The PRISM program
When Snowden originally convinced Laura Portas of his credibility, he sent her two documents. The first was a document simply stating; “Your destination is Hong Kong”. The second was an encrypted PowerPoint, outlining the PRISM program. The PowerPoint was released, with Snowden believing that “heart attacks would be had”. The PowerPoint claimed the NSA was claiming that it had secret direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet companies. Under this program (that was previously undisclosed) analysts were able to collect email content, search histories, live chats and file transfers. By the time Snowden had delivered all of the documents promised to the journalists, the Guardian had obtained a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation, classified as top secret and not for foreign nationals. The PowerPoint was used to train analysts. It claimed that ‘collection directly from the servers’ of the major service providers shown at the top of Figure 1, was not only possible, but undertaken by the NSA. Silicon Valley would vehemently deny this (Harding, 2014).

However, as figure 2 shows, when the Guardian did publish their story (Greenwald and MacAskill, 2013) there was clear evidence that they did in fact sign up to the program.

Stellar Wind

Despite this rather elegant codename, Stellar Wind is the programme that most people think of when they think of Snowden’s revelations. This was the code name given to a program set up under the Bush administration, in which the NSA would work with (“with” being the key word in this description) a majority of telecommunications companies the in US to monitor the communications of ordinary US citizens. The first key point to note is that this was warrantless. This effectively means that the NSA did not have to ask any court for permission to listen in, or to bulk collect metadata from millions of citizens. This is a prime example of data mining to create a huge database on a massive scale. When this is combined with the NSA’s visualisation tool Boundless Informant, it can create a social network of the entirety of America and its citizens, which can be analysed for terrorist threats. The NSA were also aware that much of the communication of internet traffic will chose the shortest cost path, not necessarily the most direct one. This basically means communication between someone in Spain, and someone in China, may cross American soil. This therefore made that communication vulnerable to interception by the NSA, and they exploited this, to gain foreign intelligence (Harding, 2014).


GCHQ Listening stations and their role

“We have the brains, they have the money. It’s a collaboration that’s worked very well”. These are the words of former GCHQ director Sir David Omand, explaining the role of GCHQ and the relationship it shares with the NSA. As much as 25% of the world’s current internet traffic crosses British territory via cables that land in Cornwall (the landing sites are recognised by the US Department of Homeland Security as critical American Infrastructure) when it is en route to the US, Europe, Africa and all points East. Much of the remaining traffic also crosses the US in some way or another, meaning that between them the UK and the US have a huge share of the world’s data flows. To recognise this, the US government paid out as much as £100million to GCHQ between 2009 and 2012. The final element of the partnership between the NSA and GCHQ was the technological know-how of the British. Although both could access the traffic flowing past them at approximately 10Gbp/s, GCHQ’s crowning achievement was an internet buffer, allowing them to store email messages for as long as three days so they could be analysed. In 2011 a ‘joint collaboration activity’ report stated that GCHQ was capable of collecting more metadata than the US and a 2010-2011 mid-year review stated that in one 24 hour period GCHQ was able to process and store 39 billion events. This statistic itself should emphasise how vast in scale this process is, and therefore, when combined with intelligence agency double-barrelled codenames, how difficult it is to explain. Despite these huge technological capabilities, they are still happy to poke fun at themselves, with one GCHQ recruitment file stating the main drawback of working for them was that employees had to “frequently identify where Gloucestershire is” (Harding, 2014).




Response and Reaction

As expected there was a wide split in public opinion over the disclosures. The variation is huge. Such variation is obviously expected as this is no small debate. It encompasses a wide variety of elements, and people’s opinion on these can be altered from something as distinctive as their nationality, or something comparatively small, an example being whether they prefer iOS or Android. Tackling the issue of nationality first, polls by Angus Reid Public Opinion released to the Huffington Post (Elgot & Freeman 2013) in America, have been collated as follows;

  • 60% of Brits are in support of the actions of Edward Snowden
  • 67% of Canadians are in support of the actions of Edward Snowden
  • 51% of Americans believe Snowden was a hero
  • 45% of Americans believe Snowden was traitor
  • 52% of Brits believe that monitoring of internet communications between the general public should not be tolerated
  • 60% of Americans believe that monitoring of internet communications between the general public should not be tolerated
  • 60% of Canadians believe that monitoring of internet communications between the general public should not be tolerated
  • 7% of people in the UK trust their government with their data
  • 5% of people in America trust their government with their data
  • 5% of people in Canada trust their government with their data
  • Approximately half of the respondents in each country believe that governments will use their information however they want
  • Approximately 80% of the respondents across all three countries believe that the issue of electronic surveillance is important

Tackling the opinion of the United Kingdom first, the surveys can be compared to discover the contrast between the UK and the US; more Britons supported the fact that Snowden came forward with the information, and believed that it was the right thing to do. Although this may seem as if the 60% in favour of Snowden are therefore against the surveillance itself, it is actually not that black and white. Much of the opinion on the actual activities of GCHQ and the NSA is down to the political beliefs of the individuals. Tories are far more accepting of surveillance, the survey found, and far more likely to consider Snowden a traitor. That division has been reflected in the traditional conservative media in the UK, like the Daily Mail and the Telegraph, both of which have been highly critical of the Guardian’s surveillance exposes, despite regularly championing press freedom in other quarters. However, despite their currently being a Tory coalition government in power in the UK, the survey still shows that a very small number of people trust the government with their data. This therefore throws up an interesting question; if a group sharing a political ideology believe that the surveillance is acceptable, why then do they not wholeheartedly trust a government, which shares their views, with their data?

Labour and Lib Dem supporters, who are incidentally more likely to be readers of the Guardian which broke the story, are likely to consider Snowden more of a hero, and are much more wary of surveillance activities generally, and much less trustful of their national government.

Perhaps the most intriguing area is picked up by the chairman of Angus Reid Public Opinion who carried out the survey and gave the quote above.

This amalgam of different ideologies, which fall into the same group and supporting Snowden provide a fascinating insight into just how complex a debate this is.

The complexity of the debate and wide range of opinions is also reflected in the views of the general public in America and Canada. A separate poll also carried out by Angus Reid Public Opinion (Edwards-Levy & Freeman, 2013) (not factored into the summary bullet points at the start of this section) emphasises just how close the divide is;

“Fifty-one percent of Americans said the NSA leaker was “something of a hero who should be commended for letting the public know that our governments are running electronic surveillance programmes that threaten people’s privacy,” while 49 percent labelled him “more of a traitor who should be condemned for publicizing security activities and threatening western intelligence operations.” “Neither” and “undecided” weren’t offered as options.”

This near 50-50 divide is an example of the issue the governments faced as they reeled and tried to respond to the material Snowden was making available; it was nearly impossible to keep everyone happy. As expected, public opinion in America was also approximately equally split over the surveillance itself. 54% were of the opinion that “security and anti-terrorism efforts mean we may sometimes have to infringe on civil liberties such as personal information privacy”. Despite this, there was overlap, as sixty percent of people who responded said that the wide-spread surveillance and mass data collection that was being employed by the NSA was unacceptable, with an equal number also placing little or no trust in the government as guardians of personal information.

By analysing the numbers of just two surveys, it is clear that the governments and the people have deeply divided ideas over what is an appropriate level of surveillance on internet communications of the general public, and the methods of doing so.

The split is emphasised in America, much like in the UK, by the political opinions of the general public.




Divided Views of Snowden’s Leak,

Support for His Prosecution

Release of classified information about gov’t phone, internet data collection program…

Total   Rep Dem Ind

%     %     %     %

Harms public interest       44     45     44     44

Serves public interest       49     49     50     49

Neither/Both (Vol.)           3       2       3       3

Don’t know                         5       4       4       5

100   100   100   100

Should gov’t pursue a criminal case against the person responsible for leaking the classified information?

Should pursue

Criminal case                   54     59     59     48

Should not                       38     37     35     43

Don’t know                         8       4       6     10

100   100   100   100

PEW RESEARCH CENTER/USA TODAY June 12-16, 2013. Figures may not add to 100% because of rounding.

This is a table from a Pew Research Centre Report on a survey they conducted in conjunction with USA Today. This shows the same questions with similar answers as the surveys before, yet it breaks the answers down and categorises them by political groups. This shows that the Republicans and the Democrats, the two main political parties in the US, are almost in total agreement with each other over many of the issues, which is very unusual.

The Pew Report also breaks the opinions down into other demographics, which is incredibly useful for representing the broad range of opinions on the matter. Those often referred to as the “digital generation” have a differing opinion to others.

It is clear that young people are more considerably more likely to believe the information serves the public interest than those older, with 60% of 18-29 year olds surveyed believing it does so, compared to 36% of those 65+. They are also less likely to believe that the government should pursue a criminal case against Snowden than their older counterparts, and are the most disapproving of the overall “anti-terrorism effort”, with 55% disapproving compared to (for example) 44% of 50-64 year olds.

Despite these interesting, although slightly predictable, differences, the responses that stick out the most are those to the first question. A considerable number (a majority of 18-49 year olds as an example) declared that they haven’t heard much, or even nothing) about the government and its mass data collection. A YouGov poll conduct around the same time (Sullivan 2013) shows what is perhaps another one of the most common of answers to the question, “What do you think of Edward Snowden?”;

  • 31% of Americans believe Snowden was a patriot
  • 23% believe he was a traitor
  • 46% percent were unsure

The fact many members of the public are unsure, perhaps raises the issue that they do not know enough about their usage of the internet and what the revelations mean which, combined with the number from the Pew Research Center Poll who expressed how little they knew about the disclosures made by Snowden is perhaps the most concerning element of all of the information gathered and looked at thus far.

For many of the people who have been concerned about the NSA and GCHQ programmes, this is the biggest problem. Indeed, a newspaper article (Naughton 2013) declares that “public indifference is the real enemy” Another article, provided us with an example of BBC Radio 4’s Today Program news bulletin on the day the Guardian and the New York Times broke the story of the Mass Surveillance:

Putin remains adamant on Syria at G8. Blair on Syrian intervention. The plight of Syrian refugees. Nursing regulator calls for checks on nurses. Former BBC DG accuses BBC trust of dishonesty. A phone recording from the recent Spanish rail crash. Parliamentary committee accuses civil servants of incompetence. China discovers that many Chinese cannot speak Mandarin properly. Water voles in the UK are in drastic decline.

The author draws attention to the fact that the neither Snowden or the NSA leaks themselves are mentioned, instead the program brushes over them. He questions the decisions of the journalists at the BBC in ignoring this breaking and incredibly important news story, and wondering why they chose to act as they did.

Despite there being few examples and various pieces of evidence to support the fact that some are not aware of the revelations or their impact, the effect they have had on society cannot be understated, and this is reflected in the surveys analysed.


What impact has this had?

There are many examples of events that have happened in society, either directly or indirectly, as a result of the revelations from Edward Snowden.

The first impact to focus on is in Britain. For the first time in the history of the state, a public intelligence hearing was held. Although it may seem a surprise to many (particularly those in America) that British intelligence were so rarely held publicly, Snowden’s revelations were the direct cause of the first ever hearing. Although it was expected to be a giant step, many civil liberties groups remained critical and noted the far from confrontational nature of the hearing (Walker 2013). Many groups commented on the generalisations made by those asking and answering the questions, saying that they failed to address any of the main issues at hand. A quote from the Open Rights Group makes their opinion clear:

“For instance, who decided that mass data trawling did not need an explicit parliamentary vote? How do they square data trawls with repeated human right judgments showing such harvests are going too far? Why is undermining internet security alright and why is it fine to break into potentially millions of accounts at Google and Yahoo! when there are legal routes to the same data? By concentrating on generalities the ISC failed to bite, which is extremely worrying as their main argument is that oversight makes us safe.”

Arguably, the affects were felt even more in America than in Britain. Although the intelligence hearing unearthed the fact that Britain had asked for “unsupervised” access of the NSAs data (Sledge 2014) there were many other affects already well underway in the United States. Once such affect was James Clapper, the Director of National Intelligence, being forced to admit he was a liar. Three months before the revelations, when asked by Senator Ron Wyden whether or not the NSA had been collecting data on all Americans indiscriminately, Clapper replied, in what has become one of the most recognisable quotes from the debacle in Congress; “No Sir, not wittingly”. Although the Senator knew this was untrue, he felt he was unable to say so since the program was classified. Therefore, the release of Snowden’s documents allowed the Senator to draw attention the Clapper’s blatant lie. This resulted in a far from wholehearted apology, but was an apology nonetheless and some campaigners recognised this as a move in the right direction. The US was also the scene of arguably the biggest legal victory as a result of Snowden’s actions. Since the Americans were on the whole deeply angered and unsettled by the knowledge that the                government was collecting all of their data (even the man who wrote the Patriot Act was of the opinion that the NSA’s program now went too far), the government felt they had to be seen to act. They therefore passed a bill to prevent the mass collection of data. Whether or not this will actually happen in reality is still a matter up for debate, since the White House and spy agencies appear to have interfered with many of the toughest provisions in the bill (Sledge 2014). However, it is an undeniable victory for those campaigning for civil liberties. Further to this, a federal judge in America (US District Court Judge Richard Leon) declared that the NSA surveillance program was “almost-Orwellian” and that James Madison would be appalled by the facts that had come to light. (Reily and Sledge 2013). However, there was still a stark divide across America. Only a week later, a Federal judge in Manhattan ruled that an American Civil Liberties Union lawsuit against the National Security Agency’s call tracking program should be dismissed. U.S. District Judge William Pauley III found that the programme followed by the NSA was lawful and constitutional.

This exemplifies the level of debate and just how oppositely inclined people can be regardless of their position and standing in society. Barack Obama recognised this in a landmark speech in January 2014. Although not commenting on Snowden’s motives, Obama conceded that there would be no debate without the revelations of Edward Snowden. Many other senior officials also recognised the benefit that the leaks had brought to the intelligence community. In a policy directive released alongside the speech, Obama said that it was important for more transparency over the issues (Office of the Press Secretary and The White House, 2014, pp. 1–9). This resulted in the publication of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court filings from major cases. The NSA and other security agencies also began releasing declassified materials. These provided a vital insight into the inner workings of intelligence in the United States, the first of its kind since the original leaks from Snowden himself.

The changes were not confined to America and Britain however. With Snowden’s revelations on Mass Data collection and surveillance of American citizens, came troubling information on the monitoring of foreign citizens and leaders. One of the most shocking pieces of information to arise from Snowden’s documents was the news that America had tapped the phone of German chancellor Angela Merkel. This infuriated the German leader, who was reported to have compared the surveillance to that suffered under Stasi in East Germany (Smale and Sanger, 2013). German Federal Prosecutor Harold Range announced that he would be opening an investigation into the monitoring of Merkel’s phone calls. This was proof that the leaks from Edward Snowden have had a direct effect on the global standings of the US, and have frayed diplomatic relations with foreign powers. It also is representative of the fact that people from all over the world are beginning to take the issue of surveillance seriously. (Gude, Schindler and Schmid, 2014).

                  The increase in diplomatic tensions was not restricted to Five Eyes Partners and European nations. The Brazilian military signed a contract with Saab instead of Boeing for a number of new fighter jets. Professional opinion has varied over how much this had to do with Snowden’s leaks, but one senior government source reportedly remarked that he had “ruined it for the Americans.” (Sata and Winter, 2013). However, some believe it was simply more due to the Boeing jet costing too much (Horch and Drew, 2013), showing further the nebulous and contentious nature of these revelations, something which should now be inherently clear. Regardless of the reasoning behind the decision, it cannot be denied that Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff was far from happy. She took to the podium at the UN General Assembly to vent her anger, strongly denouncing the mass data collection and claim it violated international law. (Rousseff, 2013) The leaks themselves acted as a catalyst in Brazil for the signing of an “Internet Bill of Rights”. It limits the collection of metadata of citizens in Brazil, makes internet service providers (ISPs) innocent of any content posted by their users and makes ISPs legally obligated to respond to court requests to remove offensive material. (Leham, 2014). This shows the stance of Brazil to the revelations, but some would question whether or not this is a knee-jerk reaction rather than one driven by consideration for the privacy and security of the nation and its citizens.

The final impact that cannot be ignored is the one that has been most reported across the globe. Responses have not been limited to governments, with technology companies themselves taking action. As an example of the cost this has brought to US companies, most notably through the PRISM Programme revealed by Snowden, cloud services based in the US stand to lose $35 billion since customers are fearful of security and privacy in the US (Castro, 2013). Perhaps the most noticeable step taken by a large number of multi-national technology companies, was setting up the website On this website, companies such as Evernote, LinkedIN, Apple, Google and Yahoo published an open letter to Barack Obama and members of congress calling for, as the web address suggests, reform of government surveillance. Their five main principles (Reform Government Surveillance, No Date) are outlined below:

  1. Limiting Governments’ Authority to Collect Users’ Information
  2. [Intelligence Agencies to be subject to] Oversight and Accountability
  3. Transparency about Government demands
  4. Respecting Free Flow of Information
  5. Avoiding conflicts amongst governments

In this letter, they ask for the US to take the lead in making reforms in these areas, and ensure that the measures were proportionate to the threat posed to the country. [2]

As well as taking this joint action to make their opinions known, some companies have also acted individually. One of these companies is Google. In March 2014, Google announced that it would be routinely encrypting all searches through the search engine. This was immediately recognised (and had been discussed previously by writers such as Charlie Smith of GreatFire who said Google could end censorship “not in ten years, but in ten days” (Smith, 2013)), as being hugely significant in counties where censorship was rife and nationwide, such as China. Although the country could still ban the Google domain name, this is not widely implemented. (Vincent, 2014) Despite these effects, a Google spokesperson said that the new encryption standards had been introduced in a reaction to the revelations from whistleblower Edward Snowden as to the pervasive nature of government surveillance. “The revelations of this past summer underscored our need to strengthen our networks. Among the many improvements we’ve made in recent months is to encrypt Google Search by default around the world,” said spokeswoman Niki Christoff in an e-mailed statement. “This builds on our work over the past few years to increase the number of our services that are encrypted by default and encourage the industry to adopt stronger security standards. ” (Timberg and Yang, 2014).

Google is also making changes on the hardware side. The search giant is laying a fiber optic cable under the world’s oceans, a highly expensive task but one that will it allow it to better protect its customers’ data, reports the New York Times. (Frizell, 2014) This started as a plan to simply cut cost and increase the search giants influence, but it now takes on an added dimension to help protect the privacy and integrity of the customers data. The key problem faced by Google is highlighted by the figure below;

The slide shows that the problem where was the encryption applied to the data. The author has somewhat ironically applied a smiley face to what is effectively a “region” where the data is passing being two encrypted areas. This is one of the key deficiencies that the new measures brought in by Google hope to rectify.

Microsoft is also now fully encrypting all its products, including Hotmail and, by the end of this year with 2,048-bit encryption, a stronger protection that would take a government far longer to crack. The software is protected by encryption both when it is in data centers and when data is being sent over the Internet, said Bradford L. Smith, the company’s general counsel.

Mr. Smith also said the company was setting up “transparency centers” abroad so that technical experts of foreign governments could come in and inspect Microsoft’s proprietary source code. That will allow foreign governments to check to make sure there are no “back doors” that would permit snooping by United States intelligence agencies. The first such center is being set up in Brussels. Microsoft also pushed back hard in court. In a Seattle case, the government issued a “national security letter” to compel Microsoft to turn over data about a customer, along with a gag order to prevent Microsoft from telling the customer it had been compelled to provide its communications to government officials. Microsoft challenged the gag order as violating the First Amendment. The government backed down. Despite these actions showing Microsoft is clearly taking steps to distance itself from the NSA, there is still a ban on use of Windows 8 in China. Many have made the link between this ban and Snowden’s revelations, but it could also be in place for numerous other reasons (Cartsen, Bejing Newsroom, 2014)

Hardware firms have also found themselves a victim of the swing in public opinion. One such example is CISCO, which reported that their worldwide business was beginning to decline steadily. The company say the main issue they’re facing is that they cannot convince foreign customers that there is no “back doors” which allow the NSA into the system, deliberate or otherwise.

These are just some of the reactions of companies across the global. It would be an immense task to document every change made and also an incredibly difficult one. This is because the effects are so vast and are largely immeasurable as, much like the example above of Google’s new fibre cable plan, it can be disputed whether or not the changes are in direct response to the NSA. What cannot be doubted though, is that the revelations have so far, and are continuing too, rock many establishments and forcing change, in one sense or another.


By its very nature, the question posed is an incredibly difficult one to answer. This is because the views of the public are still evolving, action is still being taken, and plans are still being drawn up as I have been researching this. I therefore recognise the dynamism of this topic, so rather than providing an unequivocal answer to the above question, the research undertaken provides a snapshot of public opinion at the time.

It is also important to make the distinction between conflicted and ambiguous opinion. The survey’s and data looked at makes it clear that the public are conflicted in their views, and many are unsure, at a basic level, if what Snowden did by coming forward was right. This therefore makes it difficult for a vast majority of people to formulate a judgement on the content of the revelations and the behaviour of the NSA. One must be careful also to not refer to the general public as one single entity when attempting to answer this question, and instead to analyse their opinion. In the comparatively minute sample looked at through the surveys and the research I have done, it is clear that opinion is varied, and can be affected by a large number of circumstances and beliefs. This makes the question far more complex than it appears at face value.

The complexity is perhaps the most noticeable point. The fact that a person’s viewpoint on this can be influenced by their political beliefs, or their age, is expected, but what is not expected is the view that they actually take. Groups at opposing ends of the political spectrum can ally over their sympathy for Snowden and distain at the government, while both young and old can share approval of their government’s anti-terrorism measures. This shows that there is a deep divide in society over their opinions of the NSA’s programmes. It is possible to make educated guesses as to why this is, indeed many of the surveys group by various demographics and this has been explored, but it is almost impossible to explain why many people feel the way they do. This is because (placed into context) the internet is still a startlingly new phenomenon, that has become totally engrained in the public domain in a little over 10 years.

As well as the relative youth of the internet making it hard to explain why people feel the way they do with regard to government surveillance online, it also makes it hard to judge what will happen in the future. As people want to increase their use of the internet (one example being the growth of the Internet of Things ((Kopetz, 2011, pp. 307–323)) any government also wants to ensure that it is, at the lowest level, aware of goings on online. This throws up a distinct conflict, and coupled with the fact that some governments could want to go beyond these bounds and repress the people, creates a huge problem for the next generation of users of the internet. An important fact that cannot be brushed over, even though some may wish it could, is the fact that, according to the NSA, 54 terrorist attacks have been thwarted by government surveillance (Alexander, 2013). This figure has been in much dispute, and many claim it is not true given lack of evidence put forward by the NSA to substantiate their claim (Elliot and Meyer, 2013). However, even if it is not true, it would be incredibly short-sighted to overlook the benefit to law enforcement of being able to monitor online communication. This has been seen in the investigation in Britain over the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby. An investigation headed by Sir Malcom Rifkind culminated in a report that declared should authorities had known about one of the killers post on a “US Social Networking site” then they could have been aware of his murderous intent, and stepped up their monitoring process on that individual and possibly have prevented the murder. (Intelligence and Select Committee, 2014). It is clear then debate is necessary, and is in many cases already underway. To conclude, it is evident that amalgamation of public opinions and views, coupled with the actions of technology firms the world over, have created the perfect conditions for debate. This is was main aim of Edward Snowden when he came forward with his documents, and I believe that he has met this aim. It cannot be denied that this is case, it is evident in this project itself. To finish, the figure below, which may appear at

first glance non-descript or irrelevant, represents the main outcome of the Edward Snowden revelations;

It shows that the debate is there to be had and that the NSA can now be made accountable. Whatever people think, this is definitely a beneficial outcome.



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Sledge, M., 2014. These 8 Things Happened Only Because Of Edward Snowden T. H. Post, ed. Huffington Post. Available at: [Accessed November 13, 2014].

Walker, P., 2013. Questioning of spy agency chiefs ‘wouldn’t have scared a puppy’. The Guardian. Available at: [Accessed November 17, 2014].

Sledge, M., 2014a. House Passes Weak Response To NSA Spying T. H. Post, ed. Huffington Post. Available at: [Accessed November 18, 2014].

Reilly, M. and Sledge, M. (2013) ‘Federal Judge Rules NSA Phone Program Likely Unconstitutional’, Huffington Post, 16 December. Available at: (Accessed: 26 November 2014).

Office of the Press Secretary and The White House (2014) Presidential Policy Directive/PPD-28, pp. 1–9.

Smale, A. and Sanger, D. E. (2013) ‘U.S.-Germany Intelligence Partnership Falters Over Spying’, New York Times, 16 December. Available at: (Accessed: 26 November 2014).

Gude, H., Schindler, J. and Schmid, F. (2014) ‘Merkel’s Mobile: Germany Launches Investigation into NSA Spying’, Der Spiegel, 14 June. Available at: (Accessed: 27 November 2014).

Sata, A. and Winter, B. (2013) ‘Saab wins Brazil jet deal after NSA spying sours Boeing bid’, Reuters, 8 December. Available at: (Accessed: 27 November 2014).

Horch, D. and Drew, C. (2013) ‘Brazil Snubs Boeing in Fighter Jet Deal’,NY Times, 18 December. Available at: (Accessed: 27 November 2014).



Leham, S. (2014) ‘Brazil passes an Internet “Bill of Rights”’, Associated Press, 23 April. Available at: (Accessed: 27 November 2014).

Castro, D. (2013) How Much Will PRISM Cost the  U.S. Cloud Computing Industry?.

Reform Government Surveillance (no date) Aol, Apple, Dropbox, Evernote, Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Twitter, Microsoft, and Yahoo Reform Government Surveillance. Reform Government Surveillance. Available at: (Accessed: 1 December 2014).

Vincent, J. (2014) ‘Google to encrypt searches globally in reaction to Edward Snowden revelations’, The Independent, 14 March. Available at: (Accessed: 1 December 2014).

Smith, C. (2013) ‘Google could end China’s web censorship in 10 days – why doesn’t it?’, The Guardian, 22 November. Available at: (Accessed: 1 December 2014).

Timberg, C. and Yang, Ji. L. (2014) ‘Google is encrypting search globally. That’s bad for the NSA and China’s censors.’, Washington Post, 12 March. Available at: (Accessed: 1 December 2014).

Frizell, S. (2014) ‘Google Is Making it Harder for the NSA to Grab Its Data’, TIME Magazine, 7 June. Available at: (Accessed: 1 December 2014).

Kopetz, H. (2011) ‘Internet of Things’, in Hermann Kopetz Real Time Systems. Springer, pp. 307–323. Available at: (Accessed: 2 December 2014).

Alexander, G. K. B. (2013) ‘National Conversation on the defense of our Nation and protecting civil liberties and privacy’, Black Hat USA 2013, 13 July. Available at: (Accessed: 2 December 2014).

Elliot, J. and Meyer, T. (2013) ‘Claim on “attacks thwarted” by NSA spreads despite lack of evidence’, ProPublica, 23 October. Available at: (Accessed: 2 December 2014).

Intelligence and Select Committee (2014) Report on the intelligence relating to the murder of Fusilier Lee Rigby. House of Commons. Available at: (Accessed: 2 December 2014).

Greenwald, G. (2013) ‘NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily’, The Guardian, 5 June. Available at: (Accessed: 2 December 2014).

Vinson, R. (2013) [FBI Order on Verzion Business Network Services].

Greenwald, G. and MacAskill, E. (2013) ‘NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others’, The Guardian, 6 June. Available at: (Accessed: 2 December 2014).

Baker, P. and Sanger, D. E. (2013) ‘Obama Calls Surveillance Programmes Legal and Limited’, New York Times, 7 June. Available at: (Accessed: 2 December 2014).

Gidda, M. (2013) ‘Edward Snowden and the NSA files – timeline’, The Guardian, 23 June. Available at: (Accessed: 2 December 2014).

Branigan, T. and Elder, M. (2013) ‘Edward Snowden arrives in Moscow’,The Guardian, 23 June. Available at: (Accessed: 3 December 2014).

Cartsen, P., Bejing Newsroom (2014) ‘China bans use of Microsoft’s Windows 8 on government computers’, Crosse, G. and Cushing, C. (eds)Reuters, 20 May. Available at: (Accessed: 15 January 2015).

[1] Although many of the individual articles have been referenced (see bibliography) the chronology and general background of Snowden and the Guardian’s story has been gleaned from (Harding, 2014)

[2] Since visiting the site at the earliest time of writing this project, it has been updated to include another open letter. This one was addressed to congress, in which the companies outline their support for the US Freedom Act of November 2014

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