Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who leaked information on U.S. National Security Agency, has warned that governments may use the coronavirus to curtail freedoms.
Snowden, in an exclusive interview with Vice, said that governments may take advantage of the pandemic to impose authoritarian rules on populations.
Snowden said, “As authoritarianism spreads, as emergency laws proliferate, as we sacrifice our rights, we also sacrifice our capability to arrest the slide into a less liberal and less free world.
“Do you truly believe that when the first wave, this second wave, the 16th wave of the coronavirus is a long-forgotten memory, that these capabilities will not be kept? That these datasets will not be kept?”
Snowden warned that while governments may have good intentions as they build technologies such as contact-tracing apps, they are building what he describes as “the architecture of oppression”.
Snowden claimed that, based on his experience working for intelligence agencies, the pandemic should have been predicted.
Snowden told Vice: “There is nothing more foreseeable as a public health crisis in a world where we are just living on top of each other in crowded and polluted cities, than a pandemic.”
“Every academic, every researcher who’s looked at this knew this was coming. And in fact, even intelligence agencies, I can tell you firsthand, because they used to read the reports had been planning for pandemics.”
Earlier this month, Apple and Google announced they would work together to create contact tracing technology that aims to slow the spread of the coronavirus by allowing users to opt into a system that catalogs other phones they have been near. They will work together with governments on technology that will allow mobile devices to trade information via Bluetooth connections to alert people when they have been in close proximity with someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, the sometimes deadly respiratory disease associated with the novel coronavirus.
The technology will first be available in mid-May as software tools available to contact tracing apps endorsed by public health authorities.
However, Apple and Google also plan to build the tracking technology directly into their underlying operating systems in the coming months so that users do not have to download any apps to begin logging nearby phones.
Last month, tech companies including Google, Facebook and Microsoft joined forces to release an unprecedented statement on coronavirus – in the battle against online misinformation. The statement promises that the tech giants are working together to “jointly combating fraud and misinformation about the virus”.
The statement was released online, and was signed by Facebook, Google, LinkedIn, Microsoft, Reddit, Twitter and YouTube.
The joint statement said, “We are working closely together on COVID-19 response efforts. We are helping millions of people stay connected while also, elevating authoritative content on our platforms, and sharing critical updates in coordination with government healthcare agencies around the world.
“We invite other companies to join us as we work to keep our communities healthy and safe.”
Facebook said last week that it plans to award $100 million in cash grants and ad credits for up to 30,000 small businesses in over 30 countries, in a move aimed to address the economic impact of the coronavirus outbreak.
VICE co-founder Shane Smith interviews famed whistleblower Edward Snowden in “Shelter in Place”, a new series on VICE TV, which looks at the global response to COVID-19 and its lasting impact around the world. Following is Snowden’s interview with Vice (https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/bvge5q/snowden-warns-governments-are-using-coronavirus-to-build-the-architecture-of-oppression, April 10, 2020):
The future may be unpredictable, but global pandemics are not. There is not a single government on the planet that has not been warned, repeatedly, that at some point a viral pandemic will sweep the globe, causing untold death and economic disruption.
And yet most failed to prepare for the novel coronavirus.
In the interview conducted from Smith’s home in Santa Monica over video chat, the two tackle topics including the lack of preparedness in the face of a global pandemic, how long this will be a threat to humanity, and whether the power we are handing to global leaders will come back and bite us in the ass.
Smith: Why does it seem like we’re so ill-prepared?
Snowden: There is nothing more foreseeable as a public health crisis in a world where we are just living on top of each other in crowded and polluted cities, than a pandemic. And every academic, every researcher who’s looked at this knew this was coming. And in fact, even intelligence agencies, I can tell you firsthand, because they used to read the reports had been planning for pandemics.
Are autocratic regimes better at dealing with things like this than democratic ones?
I don’t think so. I mean, there are arguments being made that China can do things that the United States can’t. That doesn’t mean that what these autocratic countries are doing is actually more effective.
If you’re looking at countries like China, where cases seem to have leveled off, how much can we trust that those numbers are actually true?
I don’t think we can. Particularly, we see the Chinese government recently working to expel Western journalists at precisely this moment where we need credible independent warnings in this region.
It seems that [coronavirus] may be the greatest question of the modern era around civil liberties, around the right to privacy. Yet no one’s asking this question.
As authoritarianism spreads, as emergency laws proliferate, as we sacrifice our rights, we also sacrifice our capability to arrest the slide into a less liberal and less free world. Do you truly believe that when the first wave, this second wave, the 16th wave of the coronavirus is a long-forgotten memory, that these capabilities will not be kept? That these datasets will not be kept? No matter how it is being used, what’ is being built is the architecture of oppression.