Edward Snowden Has Been Good for the USA

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I recently got the chance to see Citizenfour, a documentary about Edward Snowden and his NSA leaks, and it got me thinking once again about the impacts that Snowden has had—some predictable, some not. One of the stranger ones has been the creation of some strange bedfellows. On one hand you have Dianne Feinstein and John Boehner agreeing (possibly for the first time?) that he is a traitor, while on the other you have Michael Moore and Ron Paul arguing that he is a hero who should be lionized for his actions.

I’m likely not the only person who has had conflicted feelings about the whole Snowden affair. My first reaction was to agree with Feinstein and Boehner (not sure I’ll ever use that sentence again!). It is plainly apparent that all countries rely on intelligence gathering to counter terrorism and other very real threats and have done so for many years. In revealing the information he has, Snowden has seriously damaged the United States’ ability to keep its citizens safe, and has possibly put government personnel around the world in very real danger.

At the same time, I’m a true believer in the governance system we have here—in particular, the checks and balances inherent in our overlapping branches of government. Having once worked in the defense industry, I have seen firsthand how the system can be abused when the essential balance needed between security and oversight gets out of whack. Currently it feels as if the pendulum might have swung too far from the center—you only have to look at what has been going on with the CIA and Congress as a worrying example of this trend. Viewed in this light, you could argue that the information Snowden has revealed serves a valuable role in pulling the system back into equilibrium.

As the debate on both sides of the main issue continues to rage, one thing seems very clear to me: Edward Snowden has unintentionally provided a HUGE service to the technology industry and to the business community overall. Data is the lifeblood of business, and securing that data is essential for success. For years advocates have argued that strong perimeter defenses—whether virtual (firewalls and intrusion detection systems) or physical (surveillance systems and armed guards)—are the key to effective security. What the Snowden affair and, to a lesser extent, the Target data breach and the many other recent hacking incidents show is that physical control over assets MEANS NOTHING, and that the only mantra worth repeating..

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