Menu
Chomsky: Fight back against NSA spying or be 'complicit'

Chomsky: Fight back against NSA spying or be 'complicit'

US citizens' freedoms were 'won by popular struggle' and should be defended the same way, the MIT professor and linguist says

Now that the extent of the U.S. National Security Agency's surveillance programs has been exposed by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, it's beholden on the public to fight back or else find themselves "complicit" in the activities, according to Massachusetts Institute of Technology linguistics professor and philosopher Noam Chomsky.

The freedoms U.S. citizens have "weren't granted by gifts from above," Chomsky said during a panel discussion Friday at MIT. "They were won by popular struggle."

While U.S. officials have long cited national security as a rationale for domestic surveillance programs, that same argument has been used by the "most monstrous systems" in history, such as the Stasi secret police in the former East Germany, Chomsky said.

"The difference with the totalitarian states is the citizens couldn't do a lot about it," in contrast to the U.S., he added. "If we do not expose the plea of security and separate the parts that are valid from the parts that are not valid, then we are complicit."

He cited the still-in-development Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, which critics say could have far-reaching implications for Internet use and intellectual property. Wikileaks recently posted a draft of the treaty's chapter on intellectual property.

Now that the information is out there, "we can do something about [the proposed TPP]," Chomsky said.

What's needed for sure "is a serious debate about what the lines should be" when it comes to government surveillance, said investigative reporter Barton Gellman, who has received NSA document leaks from Snowden, leading to a series of stories this year in the Washington Post. "Knowledge is power and it's much easier to win if the other side doesn't know there's a game."

"We can be confident that any system of power is going to try to use the best available technology to control and dominate and maximize their power," Chomsky said. "We can also be confident ... that they want to do it in secret."

But there's a crucial difference between the U.S. activities and that of the Stasi, Gellman said. "The Stasi was knowingly, deliberately and cautiously squashing dissent," he said. "I don't think that's what we're seeing here at all."

A smartphone is an excellent tracking device "from my location, to who I communicate with, to what I search for," he said while holding up his personal device. "I am paying Verizon Wireless on the order of [US]$1,000 a year for this."

Meanwhile, although telcos are making money by selling phone users' personal information to third parties, at the same time "the NSA could not do part of its job as efficiently if the companies weren't selling and retaining [customer] data," Gellman said.

Company disclosures and terms of service have limited benefit as well. "Generally the terms of service are written to say we can do whatever we want, in a lot of words," he said. Even if a customer reads through carefully and notes what pledges are being made, "you have no way of monitoring what they do," Gellman added.

Since publishing stories on the NSA surveillance programs, Gellman has stepped up his personal privacy efforts significantly, through "layered defenses" including "locked rooms, safes, and air-gapped computers that never have and never will touch the 'net," he said. The extra steps are "a giant tax on my time," Gellman added.

It's not clear how many more revelations will come to light from the materials Snowden gave Gellman and other journalists. Snowden reportedly gave reporters up to 200,000 documents.

"The [NSA] documents are far from complete," often providing clues to things that end up being wrong after further investigation, Gellman said.

Chris Kanaracus covers enterprise software and general technology breaking news for The IDG News Service. Chris' email address is Chris_Kanaracus@idg.com


Follow Us

Join the newsletter!

Or
Error: Please check your email address.

Tags securityprivacycybercrimelegalU.S. National Security Agency

Featured

Slideshows

Bumper channel crowd kicks off first After Hours of 2018

Bumper channel crowd kicks off first After Hours of 2018

After Hours made a welcome return to the channel social calendar with a bumper crowd of partners, distributors and vendors descending on The Jefferson in Auckland to kick-start 2018. Photos by Gino Demeer.

Bumper channel crowd kicks off first After Hours of 2018
Looking back at the top 15 M&A deals in NZ during 2017

Looking back at the top 15 M&A deals in NZ during 2017

In 2017, merger and acquisitions fever reached new heights in New Zealand, with a host of big name deals dominating the headlines. Reseller News recaps the most important transactions of the Kiwi channel during the past 12 months.

Looking back at the top 15 M&A deals in NZ during 2017
Kiwi channel closes 2017 with After Hours

Kiwi channel closes 2017 with After Hours

The channel in New Zealand came together to celebrate the close of 2017, as the final After Hours played out in front of a bumper Auckland crowd.

Kiwi channel closes 2017 with After Hours
Show Comments