December 1, 2013

Who is the Owner of the NSA Documents?

At the beginning of the quarter I wrote that ‘Big Data is the new currency‘. I should probably have been more explicit than it’s far more about ‘information’ than solely ‘data’, data alone does not help much, you have to put them into the right context.

Consequently, the owner of the information are the new rich citizens.

Not much changed since 1 September, the governments are in agony, hoping that their citizens are forgetting the whole story and anyway the authorities are giving us the feeling the things will soon be again under good control. The drama is probably that they will never again be.

Snowden did not reveal yet as much as expected but a legitimate question I have had for a while is where the cached data of Snowden are right now. It is probable that the Russian government has some fun in investigating into them, but whom apart of Snowden are the current owners of his leaked documents? According to Glenn GreenwaldLaura Poitras and himself are the only two people with full archives of the 2013 mass surveillance disclosures leaked by the NSA contractor Edward Snowden and it was Snowden who wanted both of them to leak the right information in the right time. That’s what Greenwald recently did in the Netherlands, Norway, Canada and Germany and converting data to information.

One would say it was a smart move of Snowden to trust that his leaked documents are very secure in the hands of well-respected journalists. This is probably again an outdated way of thinking from the former non-internet world. Journalism and information flow are changing dramatically through the Internet and as much as it is getting impossible to individual governments to control data flows, it is getting more difficult for everyone to overlook what is really going on these days in journalism and which sources you still can trust.

Surprisingly not too many media (at least in Old Europe) reported that recently the eBay founder Pierre Omidyar invested a quarter of a billion dollars to personally hire Greenwald and Poitras. Omiydar is claiming that the only reason he did this was to enable journalists to do their job in the best possible way. As stated in the following article he is raising concerns about press freedom and that therefor he made this investment.

The controversial Mark Ames has been heavily attacking Greenwald in his article on pando.com ‘Keeping Secrets: Pierre Omidyar, Glenn Greenwald and the privatization of Snowden’s leaks‘ and of course it didn’t took Greenwald long to reply today with his view and arguments ‘Questions/responses for journalists linking to the Pando post – and other matters‘.

Both sides are understandable but I believe the underlying problem is far more complex and is adding extra spice to the blackouts and powerlessness about all recent information leakage.

Monopolizing and privatizing the content of Snowden has its risks. It is already difficult to understand that no individual can do much to enforce our privacy, but it seems difficult to accept that the data and information are owned by a very small profit organization, claiming to be interested in freedom of press only. It cannot be right that a small profit company is dictating which information will get revealed and which not and having the monopoly on the data and information.

The best I’ve read so far on the topic is the article ‘High-contrast transparency – How Glenn Greenwald could look like a monopolist‘ from David Weinberger. I particularly like his conclusion:

That the charge that Glenn Greenwald is monopolizing or privatizing the Snowden information is even comprehensible to us is evidence of just how thoroughly the Web is changing our defaults and our concepts. Many of our core models are broken. We are confused. These charges are further proof, as if we needed it.

This is the real problem: the complete world is changing, just another core model has broken or is about to break. I am confused …

Jeannot Muller

Entrepreneur, developer, author.

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