Posted by Jason Polak on 14. February 2018 · Write a comment · Categories: book · Tags: , , , ,

I first heard of Edward Snowden when I was still a PhD student. He became world-famous for leaking huge numbers of NSA documents on their surveillance and data collection program, whose primary aim is to indiscriminately collect as much private data from as many people as they can, regardless of whether they were suspected in any wrongdoing.

How this leak happened, and what the leak contained, is detailed in No Place to Hide by Glenn Greenwald. As Snowden entrusted Greenwald with the leaked documents, Greenwald is in a unique position to offer a detailed and accurate account of Snowden’s leaked files.

The bulk of Snowden’s documents describe the huge amounts of data are collected from pretty much anyone the NSA can get their hands on, regardless of who they are or where they live in the world. This data comes from various sources: intercepted internet transmissions, agreements with phone companies like AT&T, agreements with tech companies like Google, Facebook, and Microsoft, and other spy agencies. The data collected include the exact times and durations of phone calls, and the contents and metadata of emails. The data accumulated by the NSA is so huge that they have to build massive petabyte data centers to store it.

Greenwald’s book is frightening in its description of the NSA’s indiscriminate and often illegal data collection. That the U.S. Government has convinced enough people that this type of spying is worth it is the most bewildering aspect of all, considering that the probability of being killed in a terrorist act is so miniscule.

I also found it alarming that so many people, including journalists, denounced Greenwald and his associates for the leaks. A journalist for the New York Times went so far as to lie in an article, and that was just one of many fabrications Greenwald endured to bring the leaked documents to the world. Of course, Greenwald and Snowden also had great support as well. And lest anyone think that the leaked documents compromised national security, they should actually read this book in which it clearly shows that Snowden carefully selected his documents so that they did not reveal sensitive information that could compromise any security whatsoever.

Greenwald has done a major service to humanity in writing this book and his articles, and reporting on the Snowden leaks. Even so, I think the battle has only begun for basic human rights and existence in the face of massive data analytics in the hands of the power-hungry. Data-driven technology has only begun to mature and in the future we will see something that we’ve never seen before: a future where our lives are manipulated so quickly that most of us will be in danger of losing balance and losing control of some of the best things that make human life liveable. With the onslaught of data analytics and machine learning techniques, I fear that proponents of indiscriminate spying will only redouble their efforts to make the lives of the rest of us worse in their quest for their own power and money.

Everyone should read this book. Highly recommended.

By the way, if you’re interested in this book (and you should be), read Bruce Schneier’s Data and Goliath. Schneier, an expert in computer security, worked with Greenwald on the Snowden files. Data and Goliath is more focused and detailed on the technical aspects of indiscriminate data collection and espionage, whereas Greenwald’s book is more about the initial event and the effort it took to actually get this crucial information to the public.