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Ex-National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden says that in order to protect privacy, users should avoid the use of sites such as Facebook, Google and Dropbox. Although it appears to be generational, Facebook has become an indelible part of many users’ lives, but Snowden cautions that there is a great deal of danger in the use of these sites.
Within the last few years, there has been some improvement made by several service providers, such as Google and Facebook, in terms of the protection of the privacy of the data generated by users. There also appears to be an increased amount of transparency by the bigger Internet companies as to how user data is used and handled, however the issues are multifaceted and much more complex.
In a recent interview, conducted as a prelude to the introduction of an upcoming documentary titled, Citizen Four, which is scheduled for release on Oct. 24, Snowden explains that the major concern with sites such as Google, Facebook and Dropbox is that data is not encrypted and can be accessed by anyone, including agencies such as the NSA. He also advocates that encryption should be included in all browsers by default, so that users’ data remains private.
In a recent transparency report, Google outlined how encryption is used in their Gmail service, but has not announced any plans to add encryption to the services that they offer. Users, however, can use many third party applications to encrypt files and data while being online.
Snowden can be seen as both a hero and a villain for leaking confidential information to the media. It appears to be a courageous action to take the stand that he took, and he should be commended for sticking to his convictions even though it meant risk and life endangerment. Although the comparisons may not be entirely fair, there are parallels seen in the actions of Muhammad Ali, Benazir Bhutto, Nelson Mandela and others who stood by their convictions. Ali went to prison, and Benazir Bhutto, the former Prime Minister of Pakistan, was assassinated upon returning to her country, despite being aware of threats against her life. On the other hand, Snowden can be seen as a villain because he knowingly broke the law, and should face the consequences. He has stated his willingness to return to the U.S. with a proviso of a fair trial. It is still being debated whether the security of the U.S. has been compromised by the information he leaked.
In addition to recommending that users avoid the use of Google, Facebook, Dropbox and other services, Snowden further advises that users adopt encryption on all mobile devices, and not rely on default SMS tools. The encryption can also be used to record illegal access attempts and when required, can be obtained with warrants or subpoenas.. He further explains that although users may not be directly affected by the revelations of widespread online surveillance, how this data is used in the future should be of grave concern. The attitude that there is nothing to hide could be used to give governments the right to invade privacy and violate the rights of its citizens.
Opinion by Dale Davidson