State Surveillance: Eric Snowden's Leaks

By: Jacob Taylor, Camille Boucher, Liliana Elenez, Shunsuke Nishizawa
on for GS206

Eric Snowden's leaks have profoundly impacted the surveillance and technology industries by exposing both their collusion and facilitation of state surveillance on one hand, and their attempts to fight it on the other. His first leak was published May 20th 2013 by The Washington Post, and have been published regularly since then. In total, they have revealed that the United States National Security Agency (NSA) has embarked on mass-scale surveillance of the entire Internet. Here we present how various groups understand the leaks, examples of the globalized nature of state surveillance, how this ties into theories of globalization, and finally if these theories are supported by the examples presented, or not.

While many claim that the function of states has been weakened by globalization, some like Daniel Beland, and Carolyn Nordstrom claim that nation-states have still played a key role. Daniel Beland argues that the state plays a key role because of what he calls the four major sources of collective insecurity: terrorism, economic globalization, immigration, and global disease (Ritzer, 2010). Also, Carolyn Nordstrom regards globalization as an opportunity for nation-states, not a threat (Ritzer, 2010). The function of NSA was enhanced after 9/11 when, in 2001, the Bush administration authorized the NSA to begin conducting full scale collection of electronic phone calls from American citizens, to enforce the new law, the Patriot Act. This enabled the NSA to access the citizens' private information, based on the law. Mainstream printed media and social media have been largely silent about this, but are now challenging the strength and role of the government and how transparent it is toward its citizens, and so this discussion about mass surveillance been made relevant during the controvery surrounding Snowden's leaks. "After 9/11, many of the most important news outlets in America abdicated their role as a check to power – the journalistic responsibility to challenge the excesses of government"[1]. This is a good illustration of how the Snowden leaks have allowed journalists to start doing their job by writing on the topic and provoking reactions on the government's excesses toward citizens privacy, as Snowden first revealed these excesses to the public, long before journalists knew what was going on regarding NSA surveillance. A survey by the writers' organization PEN American Center done after the sparking of Snowden's controversy shows 73 percent of its members' respondents to be the most worried they ever have been about privacy rights and freedom of the press today[2]. In addition to that, as results of a Harris Poll found, four people out of five have showed a significant preoccupation about their privacy due to the controversy of NSA surveillance and so they started to change the privacy settings of their social media accounts. As new revelations from the Snowden documents sparked through print medias and social medias over the last months, revealing one after the other of the pervasive National Security Agency's anti-terrorism surveillance activities, privacy has been a priority for many. Not only has the media's portrayal of of Snowden's leaks affected how people interpret the leaks, but also how people see the media. Among the 2,089 that respond to one of the Harris Poll surveys taken last September "some 40%, aged 18 and older, said they had made changes to their privacy settings in the last three months, and 53 percent in the last six months"[3]. Another challenge for the state is that globalization has made labor costs extremely competitive, and when it becomes a challenge, for some, winning and being the best becomes the main focus. But some of the actions that are taken for the betterment of the company can be damaging for others, as hacking or restriction/control can be abused in corrupt ways. The very same equipment that can be used to secure and maintain a nation's networks can also be used to implement politically-motivated restrictions on access to information, as well as monitor and record private communications. This raises for public debate the question about the sale of "dual-use" communication technologies to national jurisdictions where the implementation of such technology has not been publicly debated or shaped by the rule of law in the region, or where it will be used to censor political speech instead of protect a nation's security. This concern can be viewed as an issue for the national government as the underlying systems that maintain security in the nation can easily fall prey to new technologies that policymakers do not yet understand the implications of. But these issues go beyond any one company and its products or services, and underscore the imperatives of addressing the global public policy implications of internationally-marketed communications infrastructure and services.

Next we will present some examples and analysis of their effect on a globalized world. One of the surveillance programs Snowden revealed is called 'Prism'. Under this program, NSA is suspected to collect the user information including email, pictures, video, saved dates and so on. To collect the information, NSA demanded nine major companies (Google, Facebook, Microsoft, Skype, Youtube, ALO, Apple, Yahoo, and Paltalk) provide then with this user information. For example, Facebook was told to provide the NSA wit 18,000 user's information[4]. However, this surveillance was conducted in the name of protecting citizens from terrorism. The head of NSA, Keith B. Alexander, responded to this problem by claiming that 'Prism' contributed to preventing several terrorism acts[5]. Also, the public poll shows that 54% of the citizens favor some NSA surveillance[6]. A majority of American citizens admit that the state should have a key role against terrorism. Daniel Beland, for example, argues that the fears of insecurity provoked by terrorism will work as the force to strengthen the role of nation-states. The state power is strengthened by globalization because the risk of terrorism seems to increase due to globalization. The 9/11 terrorism and following terrorist attacks show increasing mobility of terrorists. Terrorists are no longer bound to specific states or groups, rather they form individually and flow globally. Beland argues that this situation demands comprehensive state surveillance systems such as the ones the NSA is conducting.

Another collection program, MUSCULAR (DS-200B)[7], which was revealed on October 30th, 2013, is a joint data collection program between the United States National Security Agency (NSA) and the United Kingdom's Government Communication Headquarters (GCHQ). This program targets the private fiberoptic links large technology companies use to connect their datacenters together, which are often spread across multiple continents. MUSCULAR specifically targets the links between Google's and Yahoo's datacenters[8], capturing internal company communications such as Google Chrome Sync data, Google Talk chat data, "Gaia" data – Google's internal system for authenticating Google Accounts, Google Adwords (advertising requests), Yahoo's instant message data, and Yahoo email headers[9]. Understandably, Google was not happy about finding this out, with CEO Eric Schmidt saying "I was shocked that the NSA would do this – perhaps a violation of law but certainly a violation of mission, this is clearly an overstep"[10]. This program is notable because it exploits American law which has vastly less oversight for "collection operations" on foreign soil (GCHQ is directly collecting the data, then sending it to the NSA), where it can be assumed that all people's information being collected are foreigners. Google's response was to encrypt all inter-datacenter links, and Yahoo is soon following suit[11]. Microsoft announced to a European parliamentary committee last week that they do not encrypt the connections which MUSCULAR targets, but that they are "currently reviewing [their] security system"[12]. Elsewhere in the tech industry, Cisco, a US corporation which makes networking hardware, has attributed an 18-30% decline in demand for their products this quarter in B.R.I.C.S. countries at least partially to the backlash from the spying programs Snowden has leaked[13]. This shows us explicitly that not only does this affect Americans, but also many other countries are concerned as well. Technology has, in this case, facilitated the massive scale collection of data and also the subsequent spread of concern about such technology to a world audience.

In the surveillance industry, Blue Coat provides corporate and nation state level network security services by allowing them to choose which applications, services, devices, and data sources to allow on their networks. Blue Coat has a history of protecting organizations' data and employees, which has made it a trusted brand for 15,000 customers worldwide, including 86 percent of the Fortune Global 500. Blue Coat public network devices are found in 83 countries (20 countries with both ProxySG and PacketShaper, 56 countries with PacketShaper only, and 7 countries with ProxySG only). Blue Coat is the only company that provides Web filtering, Web security, and network performance controls that companies need to protect and optimize all of their network resources. However, these technologies are dual-use, and can be both applied as awesome optimization of a company's internal networks as well as nation-scale web filtering. This was done in Tunisia in the lead up to their Arab Spring revolution in 2011[14]. They were specifically used to capture the web browsing traffic of Tunisians and arrest any citizens doing things the government didn't approve of.

Finally, this brings us to the broader context of state surveillance. This surveillance technology touches everyone. Giddens would call this technology a fluid flow of information, because it flows around current solids (nation states and their laws), who are somewhat helpless to stem the flow. One challenge for the consumer-facing technology industry is refuting claims that they partner or in some way directly interface with these state surveillance systems. In the USA in particular, state surveillance is included under the umbrella of national security secrets, and so companies are not allowed to confirm or deny that they're participating or assisting, or even give vague ranges of how many surveillance requests they've received (as some companies do for standard FBI "pen register" warrants). This idea of having well-enforced national security secrets supports the argument of a strengthened state from globalization. However, nations' inability to control export of surveillance technologies to undesirable jurisdictions is a solid counterclaim to a strengthened state. Additionally, due to Snowden's revelations, people now have the information about government authority in the tracking of private communications of its citizens even when the citizens are not suspected of terrorist activity or associations[15]. Snowden tried to bring some light to their crimes within the United States and across the world[16]. In our textbook, Sociology of Globalization, it is argued that globalization has threatened human rights and welfare in some cases, so we understand how in the Snowden leak controversy the spying from the Government and its agencies on citizens' communications is an example of human rights that have been violated as it invades people's privacy[17]. These leaks have increased the information available about the extent of government surveillance, supported how strong the state really is in the face of globalization, and have facilitated a world-wide discussion about the depth, breadth, and efficacy of state surveillance.


1: link. HUFFINGTON POST. Edward Snowden To NY Times: Media 'Abdicated' Role Post-9/11

2: link. Surveillance Leaves Writers Wary.

3: link. Snowden effect: Young people now care about privacy.

4: link. "米政府、FBとMSに情報提供要請"

5: link. "「テロ数十件を阻止」米NSA局長が効果強調 極秘情報収集"

6: link. "Pew Research Center for the People & the Press Political Survey, Oct, 2013"

7: link. "NSA Cable Interception Programs"

8: link. "How we know the NSA had access to internal Google and Yahoo cloud data"

9: link. "NSA-Google-Yahoo"

10: link. "Google's Schmidt 'outraged' by NSA snooping"

11: link. "Yahoo Will Follow Google In Encrypting Data Center Traffic, Customer Data Flow By Q1 '14"

12: link. '"We still don't encrypt server-to-server data," admits Microsoft'

13: link. "Cisco's gloomy revenue forecast shows NSA effect starting to hit home"


15: link. WASHINGTON POST. In NSA leaks, Edward Snowden performed a service.

16: link. NEW YORK TIMES. Give Snowden Asylum in Germany.

17: SMITH, KERI E. IYALL. Sociology of Globalization.Westview Press. 2013, p.221