Some young dude named Snowden with a clear and present risk to his own freedom has divulged something that may or may not be relevant to Americans' privacy and freedom. He is ratting out the existence of a tool used by the NSA which goes under the name of PRISM. As far as anybody can tell, and there are probably only a few who actually could, this PRISM tool is used on ordinary Americans without their knowledge to collect and/or organized data for the purposes of the American Intelligence establishment.
Now several months ago, I came to understand that the authorization of certain provisions of the PATRIOT Act (how Orwellian is that?) would create secret laws authorizing secret laws. At the time there were several folks who ought to know, who vehemently protested these provisions. Knowing in my heart that President Obama has all the integrity of a Maitre D', I figured that Americans would get the responsible service in this regard that they paid for, which for most of us is a contemptible near-zero amount. In checking my archives on Security and Paranoia I can't find everything that I want, but thankfully there are enough bloggers out there with some history that hasn't been erased.
My gut is telling me that Snowden is about as reliable a source as can be had - which is to say very bloody unlikely to be left standing credibly at the end of the day. Whatever grains of truth he is able to reveal should be sufficient for society's wheels to start churning up the checks and balances we can rely upon to find out. Snowden is the pebble at the center of what should become a snowball rolling down the mountainside. The fate of the pebble is not the issue, but how big the waves are that ripple in a properly democratic pond. Snowden will sink and can only rise if we are not drowned or mired and actually drain the swamp. But of course there will be an ocean of resistance.
On the one hand, Snowden either had to apprehend somebody abusing the system or find it easy enough to abuse the system himself to call its controls into question. Either one of those actions in a relatively closed organization can result in 'career limiting moves'. There is no way easy to leak what one knows as a professional - our shorthands and our Dilbertisms limit us. We all know what goes wrong and what can be improved - and in some way we are all in the same boat. There is no inconsequential way for him to leak if we are a serious society of law. The significance of all this must be hyped to a certain level - meaning those of us who care about the core issue of civil liberty must keep on the backs of the experts we will need to get to the bottom of this problem. I say this because I expect the Administration to cover its tracks.
It seems we cannot keep up with the number of scandals coming out of Washington. But I will try to keep up with this one. As an IT professional, the ability for any to trust in what I aim to do is at risk. In the meantime, I'll be checking on Schneier, Spook86, Volokh and Fernandez in order to keep up.
I like Snowden today better than I ever will sympathize with Julian Assange or with Bradley Manning, his agent. I believe that Snowden was simply astonished at what he found, and that the other two were angry men with knives just looking for someone to stab.