Like many people I was shocked by the revelations about the activities and documents of the US National Security Agency that Edward Snowden leaked in 2013. The scale of online and computer surveillance being conducted by this government-approved/funded agency in cooperation with telecommunication companies and other countries’ governments is staggering. The journalist that Snowden worked with to break this story, Glenn Greenwald, has written his account of the dramatic release of this information. “No Place to Hide” recounts their meeting, the intense period of launching this momentous news story from a hotel in Hong Kong and some of the key events which occurred after the story broke. Greenwald goes on to reproduce and explain some of the key documents which helpfully outlines why these top secret communications, memos and manuals revealed are so significant. He convincingly explains why online privacy is so important in our society and the important role that journalism should play in keeping governments in check. These points should be obvious, but as Greenwald astutely observes their meaning has been obfuscated by the ways in which governments and the mainstream media work jointly to push their own agenda.
Although I’m obviously freaked out by the idea of my personal communications being observed or collected by a government agency, I have to admit part of me has always felt about this story ‘Well, I don’t have anything to hide… or, at least, nothing that would be of interest to the secret service or the general public.” Greenwald does a fantastic job of addressing this exact reaction. He intelligently breaks down exactly why “Everyone, even those who do not engage in dissenting advocacy or political activism, suffers when that freedom is stifled by the fear of being watched.” It’s also easy to make the argument that if it’s for the greater good and if it helps to isolate participants in illegal or terrorist activities shouldn’t we accept general surveillance of the internet? Firstly, the trouble is that much of the surveillance activities aren’t actually about combating terrorists. They are more often about gaining economic and political advantages for the government using them. Secondly, it’s a grave folly to leave ourselves so exposed because you never know how the information may be used against you. Greenwald also observes that “Forgoing privacy in a quest for absolute safety is as harmful to a healthy psyche and life of an individual as it is to a healthy political culture.”
I was shocked and horrified by many of the facts which Greenwald recounts in “No Place to Hide.” It’s given me a much more clear-sighted understanding and guarded attitude towards the media I consume as well as both the Obama administration and the British government I currently live under. The revelations contained in this book aren’t limited to the US, but show the horrendous way the British secret service ransacked and destroyed information given to the Guardian by Snowden and the intimidating tactics used to hold Greenwald’s partner in custody without cause during his layover in London.
The internet has become such an integral part of our lives; the revelations contained in Snowden’s files have made a significant impact in making everyone think harder about how we want this virtual landscape to be governed or policed. As well as being a highly informative account of what is probably the most significant leak of top secret US agency files in history, this book is a powerful reminder that we must always be vigilant of the government we live under no matter how easy it is to be complacent.