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'The Snowden effect'

Shelton-Mason County Journal of Shelton, Washington

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Komen Comment

Some New Year news gleanings in "the Snowden effect" era: Those fiercely competitive online big boys — Google, Microsoft, Twitter, Facebook, Yahoo, AOL, Linkedln, Apple — say government spying is bad for business. They bought full-page newspaper ads to urge "reforms that ensure government surveillance efforts are clearly restricted bylaw."

The online privacy they've promised all these years isn't private at all. The government has been secretly vacuuming the Internet for years, including postings on "private" social networks.

"Mission accomplished" was the message last week from Edward Snowden, the man who blew the whistle on the government's secret surveillance of its citizens. But the social network behemoths, complaining about government spying, aren't giving any credit to Snowden.

They should. Without Snowden's revelations, the National Security Agency's all-encompassing spy activity would still be secret. He lifted the lid on NSA spying, and the Snowden effect has led to exposure of secret spying activities permeating American life.

We've learned about Stingray, a tool used to track cellphones and their users. It is technology used since 2001 by law enforcement. Now we learn of its unlimited potential to find and spy on anyone anywhere anytime.

The Snowden effect has brought attention to the webcam found on most desktop and laptop computers. The Washington Post says the FBI has the capacity to secretly turn oh any computer's webcam and use it for surveillance.

The news magazine The Week reports government spies have infiltrated online games. The government's suspicion was the games, including "World of Warcraft" and "Second Life," might be used by enemy agents to recruit and train militants. The games have been under secret government surveillance since 2007.

Startling statistics keep coming up. The NSA is scooping up nearly 5 billion records a day "on the whereabouts of cellphones around the world," reports The Washington Post.

The Associated Press quotes security experts who say "passwords for more than 2 million Facebook, Google and other accounts have been compromised and circulated online."

(It's unrelated, of course, but add in the millions of credit and debit cards compromised by Target stores hackers, and Americans can feel they are under siege.)

But with all this spying of U.S. citizens, it is argued by NSA apologists that law-abiding Americans should not be concerned. They contend if one is doing nothing wrong, then one has nothing to worry about. Not so, say experts who cite thousands of laws on the books that anyone might unwittingly violate.

The New York Times cites Massachusetts lawyer-author Harvey Sil-verglate, who says at least three crimes a day are committed by the average American professional. While academics, lawyers and even government officials don't actually know how many laws exist in today's judicial system," says the Times, "it's estimated that there are from 10,000 to 300,000 federal regulations that could be enforced criminally.

"What's clear is that tracking technologies have outpaced democratic controls," says one expert quoted by the Times. "What we've learned this year is that agencies are determined to conduct surveillance on us, and there's not a whole lot we can do about it."

Were it not for the ex-NSA staffer Snowden, Americans would still be oblivious to the overwhelming extent of spy activities they have been subjected to by their own government.

Snowden remains in exile in Russia. The government whose secret spying he exposed wants him back for trial, perhaps for treason. But the Snowden effect includes the fact this "renegade" has caused Americans to question and distrust their own government.

To try Snowden for treason or even thievery could be counterproductive for a government that spied on its own people and lied about it.

"Americans must never make the mistake of wholly 'trusting' our public officials." That's the conclusion of last month's special commission report on NSA spying John Komen, who lives on Mason Lake, was for 40 years a reporter and editor, TV anchorman, national TV network correspondent, producer, columnist, editorial writer and commentator. His column, Komen Comment, appears each week in the Mason County Journal.

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Original Publication Date: January 2, 2014

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