Wikileaks has just published over 8,000 files they say were leaked from the CIA, explaining how the CIA developed the capacity to spy on you through your phone, your computer, and even your television. And Wikileaks’s Julian Assange claims these “Vault 7” documents are just one percent of all the CIA documents they have.
The media will be combing through these for weeks or months, so now is a perfect moment for us to reconsider the role of privacy, transparency, and limited government in a free society.
We’ve put together a quick list of the six best Learn Liberty resources on government spying and whistleblowing to help inform this discussion.
1. War Is Why We’re Being Watched
Why is the US government spying on its citizens in the first place? Professor Abby Hall Blanco says that expansive state snooping at home is actually the result of America’s military interventionism abroad:
2. Is Privacy the Price of Security?
Yes, you may think, the government is snooping on us, but it’s doing that to keep us safe!
That’s the most common justification for sweeping and intrusive surveillance, so we held a debate between two experts to get right to the heart of it. Moderated by TK Coleman, this debate between Professor Ronald Sievert and Cindy Cohn, the Executive Director of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, was inspired in part by the revelations about NSA surveillance leaked by Edward Snowden in June 2013.
3. Freedom Requires Whistleblowers
People are already drawing parallels between the Snowden leaks and the Vault 7 revelations. If the leaks are indeed coming from a Snowden-like whistleblower, that will once again raise the issue of government prosecution of people who reveal classified information to the public.
Professor James Otteson argues that a free society requires a transparent government, and whistleblowers play a key role in creating that accountability. Otteson also sounds a warning that should resonate with many Americans today:
Maybe you’re not concerned about the invasions of privacy that the federal government agencies are engaging in because you think, “Well, I haven’t done anything wrong. What do I have to fear?” Maybe you think, “I like and support this president. I voted for him.”
But what about the next president? The powers that we let the government have under one president are the same powers that the next president will have too.
What if the next president is one you don’t support? He, too, will have all the power that you were willing to give the president you now support.
Documents from Vault 7 suggest that the CIA has been so stymied by encrypted-messaging apps, such as Signal and Whatsapp, that it has resorted to taking over entire smartphones to read messages before they are sent.
That turns out to be a costly, targeted, and time-consuming business that doesn’t allow for mass data collection. But for decades, government officials have tried to require tech companies to give the government a backdoor into their encryption. In “Encryption Is a Human Rights Issue,” Amul Kalia argues that protecting encryption from government is essential to our safety and freedom.
It turns out that it’s not just spy agencies that have access to detailed information about your life. Ordinary police officers have it, too, and they often face little supervision or accountability. As Cassie Whalen explains, “Across the United States, police officers abuse their access to confidential databases to look up information on neighbors, love interests, politicians, and others who had no connection to a criminal investigation.”
Surveillance is a serious issue at every level of government.
6. Understanding NSA Surveillance
If you’re ready to take your learning to the next level, check out our complete video course on mass government surveillance with Professor Elizabeth Foley. In it, you’ll learn what you need to know to make sense of the NSA scandal in particular and mass surveillance in general.