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NSA Scandal

Opinion: The end of privacy

Snowden's latest disclosures shatter the last remnants of hope for privacy in the digital age. This should alarm even those who don’t mind intelligence services reading their Facebook page, says DW's Michael Knigge.

"I don't want to live in a world where everything that I say, everything I do, everyone I talk to, every expression of creativity or love or friendship is recorded."

This was Edward Snowden's reply to Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald's question about his motivation for going public and exposing the NSA's mass surveillance efforts.

After the initial disclosures focusing on the NSA's collection of US mobile phone records, many people felt that Snowden's ominous-sounding remark reeked of the self-important exaggerations of a 29-year-old computer geek.

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Michael Knigge

Michael Knigge

But with the constant drip feed of disclosures since the Guardian started reporting them on June 5, it became increasingly likely that Snowden might not have exaggerated. Now, with the latest revelations showing that even encrypted communication is not safe and detailing the close ties between companies and intelligence services, we have come full circle.

Snowden was right. We are on the brink of living in a world without privacy.

Orwellian nightmare

We have learned that large parts of our telephone and Internet communications and activities are being monitored. We have learned that companies play a major role and often are complicit in enabling surveillance because they share the intelligence services' insatiable hunger for personal information. We have learnt from our collective governments that they are not willing to safeguard our privacy because they are also deeply enmeshed in what is a globalized surveillance scheme. And we have learnt with every revelation flowing from the Snowden drip feed that we are still not even close to knowing the full extent of how we are being watched.

Despite the evidence of mass surveillance which results in a de-facto suspension of the presumption of innocence and stifles our freedom of speech - two pillars of Western democracies - many people have so far ignored and deflected the issue.

"I have nothing to hide, no secrets to spill and so I don't care if the NSA sees what I like on Facebook" is their mantra.

Money has a tendency to concentrate the mind. For those who do not mind that just by analyzing Facebook 'likes' researchers can predict a user's sexual orientation, political view and race with more than 80 percent accuracy, perhaps this will give them pause for thought.

Read you like a book

Snowden's latest revelations show that most widely used encryption programs can be penetrated or circumvented by the NSA and its allies. In a nutshell that means that our most sensitive records - financial, business, and health information - read like an open book for intelligence services and their many contractors.

Or do you really think your local bank, health care provider or business partner stores your bank statements, your health records or your bills in an encrypted system that even the NSA cannot break? And how confident are you in light of the recent disclosures that this very personal and highly valuable information is not shared with other interested parties and that you cannot do anything about it?

If it still does not make you cringe that some of your most intimate data is unprotected and widely available to governments and private contractors and that this data coupled with all the other data you produce leaves you exposed and naked, then you are a perfect citizen of the impending world without privacy.

If it does make you cringe, you should push politicians to do something about it.

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