Edward Snowden inadvertently warned the technical community about Condoleezza Rice’s appointment to the Dropbox board of directors. An interview mentioned in the book published recently by Glenn Greenwald titled No Place To Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State, reveals a moment where Snowden may have alluded to the federal government’s attempt to increase collaboration with private companies on cyber security. American politicians have historically sat on the boards of large corporations, but Rice’s appointment to Dropbox eerily resembles exactly what Snowden indicated when he first leaked documents about the National Security Association’s (NSA) participation in wiretapping and metadata collection.
An article by Conor Friedersdorf in The Atlantic examines Snowden’s motives explained in interviews in No Place To Hide. Friedersdorf addresses Snowden’s most widely acclaimed motive of creating a global discourse on privacy rights in relation to the NSA’s espionage-based defense program. However, the article expounds upon a lesser publicized motive of Snowden, a motive that exposes Snowden’s call to “elites” situated in a “small subculture of tech influencers.”
Friedersdorf’s commentary on Snowden’s interest of targeting the technical community is extracted from this quote made by Snowden, “We can guarantee for all people equal protection against unreasonable search through universal laws, but only if the technical community is willing to face the threat and commit to implementing over-engineered solutions.” Snowden strategically uses the word “universal” to highlight how the NSA conducts spying on American citizens and the global community under the guise of a normal democracy where citizens’ civil liberties are sacrificed for national security.
This comment is relevant to understanding the controversy surrounding Condoleezza Rice’s appointment to Dropbox’s board of directors on April 9, 2014. On Wednesday May 14, Rice gave the keynote address at VentureScape, an entrepreneurial conference held annually in San Francisco. Rice took the opportunity to emphasize her personal views of Snowden by calling him a traitor, but the most telling aspect of her speech involved her focus on immigration and the economy. Rice believes that a “great” democratic government depends on an expansive private sector that imports qualified tech experts who are expected to induce economic expansion through technological innovation.
Edward Snowden’s message about the American government’s privacy infringements sent a warning about Condoleezza Rice, whose political clout in the technical community has grown substantially since her time spent in the Bush Administration. Snowden also warns about the power dynamics that determine what Americans are allowed to know about their government’s actions behind the scenes. “In the end, we must enforce a principle whereby the only way the powerful may enjoy privacy is when it is the same kind shared by the ordinary: one enforced by the laws of nature, rather than the policies of man.” Snowden gets to the heart of his message by challenging the American conception of equality in a country where corporate entities appoint individuals with political ties to decision-making bodies. Considering that corporations are now people, the definition of equality becomes muddled when governmental entities blur the lines between the government and the corporate sector.
The NSA’s policies that lie at the intersection of national security and the technological corporate sector continue to unravel like a ball of yarn into a tangled mess of initiatives that claim to thwart cyber terrorism. General Keith Alexander, former director of the NSA, goes into great depth about the future influence the Department of Defense may have on tech corporations. General Alexander applauds the government’s defense of “valuable information assets” and declares that the NSA is,”obliged to help the private sector do the same thing.” General Alexander introduced his and Deputy Secretary of Defense Billy Lynn’s plan to implement a “‘secure zone—a place where individuals and private companies could opt-in to secure their data with the best protections government possesses.”
Edward Snowden unintentionally gave a warning about the involvement of NSA supporters,like Condoleezza Rice, in the technical community. His foresight may not have intended to predict Rice’s position on the board of directors at Dropbox or her courtship of techies at this year’s VentureScape. However, his message definitely parallels General Alexander’s comments on the future of the NSA’s control of security systems in the private sector. The next step is to trace just how optional the NSA’s tailored security programs will be when the time comes for capitalists to “opt-in”.
By Reivin Johnson