2013: The Year We Were “Snowden”

"snowed in"Edward Snowden: A new synonym for cyber space security, or perhaps a lack thereof.  A new public figure the world now instantly associates with spying, and data, and that suspicious governmental organization that back in 2012 was just another acronym — the NSA.

This Christmas 2013, Snowden decided to open his mouth again and grace the world with an Alternative Christmas Message, which aired on Great Britain’s Channel 4 and has been uploaded to the web.  In his short message, Snowden looks into the camera and urges viewers to recognize the state of the world in which they are living — a world where conventional privacy is a thing of the past and where newborn children will “never know what it means to have a private moment to themselves.”

An uplifting holiday message, to say the least, Snowden’s Orwellian provocation caps off 2013 as what seems to have become the year where we were “Snowden,” and where what we all suspected was going on anyway became  yet another dramatic talking piece for the mainstream media.  Snowden told us that the government was watching our activity from anything and everything that’s connected to the web; and, yet for most web users this was something that had been suspected and accepted for a number of years.

The real question is what is allowing Edward Snowden to continue his crusade?  And for how much longer will he remain relevant?  For most computer users, the realization that the government could be watching them occurred the moment they realized that the Internet literally was a “world wide web.”  Such a realization was usually then followed by a shoulder shrug, and a continuance of normal activity.  That’s because most people who use computers don’t do anything illegal, online or off.  Most people are just normal people, who use computers to do normal things.  The biggest threat that most people face when browsing online isn’t a malevolent government that seeks to control their behavior and destroy the world; instead, it’s usually just other people who want to commit fraud, using a computer.

The reason Snowden has dominated the cyber security landscape is that Snowden is a voice on the fringe, who’s chosen to speak up.  What’s interesting about most (political) issues like this one is that the majority of people are moderate, and so the majority of people never say a word.   This means that those who believe in extremes are those that fill the conversational void, and that the rest of us are stuck listening to them blather.  Meanwhile, 40 million banking accounts get stolen from Target and yet another personal laptop gets destroyed by an infected USB.

This isn’t to say that governmental surveillance is a good thing.  Far from it, it is admittedly a little messed up; but, it is a reality that’s existed for a long time before Snowden and one that will continue to exist for a long time to come.  The good news, however, is that it isn’t quite as pervasive as the talking heads would suggest.  Not every thought is monitored and not every action takes place under governmental watch.

For one thing, you’re probably not that important.  And for another, you’re really not recording every thing you think.  What most people choose to ignore when engaging in the Snowden debate is that you do still have the freedom to choose how you will interact with your computer.  No one is making you chart your thoughts onto your social media feed, and no one compelled you to upload that video where you rant into the webcam for a good ten minutes about the injustices of the NSA.

Like antivirus security itself, ensuring personal privacy is largely determined by user responsibility and discretion.  Even with the world as computerized as it is, computers are still just tools that we get to control in any way we’d like.  This includes not using them, too.

So here’s to 2013!  The year where we were “Snowden” by a conversation we never really needed to have!

Anyone care to share their thoughts? ;)