The Snowden Effect: 4 things we’ve learned since the privacy bubble exploded

Digital freedomPrivacy news
4 mins
Illustration of Edward Snowden.

This post was originally published on February 3, 2016.

The Snowden Effect (noun): To raise global awareness towards privacy and security rights

In 2013 NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked highly classified documents that exposed how governments around the world conduct mass surveillance. Minute, intimate details were recorded in painstaking detail.

The issue of privacy instantly became a heated subject. Tech companies worked feverishly to encrypt their devices while governments tried to assure people that all their spying was done in the best interest.

We have seen a change in how governments collect data in recent years, but the issue remains the same: Is privacy the price you pay for freedom?

Here’s what we’ve learned in the years since.

1. Privacy Is Becoming a Luxury

While you may not be aware of it, your ‘right’ to privacy is no longer a right. We’re all guilty of trading some aspects of our privacy for convenience — the social media sites we use, the ability to automatically tag photos based on our location, or even the autofill forms on certain sites are all privacy risks we willingly take. However, many of us are doing so at the expense of our personal security.

A 2014 Pew Research study titled The Future of Privacy found:

“Privacy is an archaic term when used in reference to depositing information online. Individuals are willing to give up privacy for the reasons of ease, fastness, and convenience… If anything, consumer tracking will increase, and almost all data entered online will be considered ‘fair game’ for purposes of analytics and producing ‘user-driven’ ads.”

Every time we swipe through an app’s Terms of Service without reading the repercussions we’re sacrificing our privacy.

It’s a slippery slope, and most of us are sliding unknowingly.

2. People Still Either Really Love or Really Hate the NSA

Via some wonderful Internet denizen

A recent Pew Study looked at people’s stance on privacy over a two-and-a-half year period. What we learned is that an overwhelming 91 percent of adults surveyed agreed mass data collection is getting out of hand. Unfortunately, when it comes to the NSA itself the feeling isn’t mutual; only 52 percent said they’re “very concerned” about government surveillance, and 46 percent said they’re not concerned at all.

Ignorance is bliss, but it’s also dangerous. Which brings us to our third point:

3. The Future Is Starting to Look Less Like The Jetsons and More Like Minority Report

Many tech experts predict only a handful of people will have both the energy and the resources to protect themselves from the growing trend of data surveillance in the coming years.

Scandals involving smart thermostats that track your day-to-day habits, toys that record your child’s conversations, and TVs that send your viewing habits to unknown third parties are becoming more common.This is only scratching the surface, people. Dig a little deeper and things start to get really hairy.

Unfortunately, the government remains stubborn in its attempt to curtail this growing privacy threat. When it comes to most smart devices today consumers seem to have a choice: accept the product in all its privacy-invasive glory or don’t buy at it all.

What kind of a choice is that?

4. We’re Starting to See a Sea Change in Both our Governments and Our Tech Industries

Fortunately, it’s not all doom and gloom. Since the NSA’s methods were brought to light, privacy advocates in both public and private sectors have worked tirelessly to right these wrongs. Apple has begun installing end-to-end encryption on their devices; Google has campaigned to make TLS encryption the standard for both websites and email; and the Patriot Act, which was heralded with nearly unanimous approval, was ruled unconstitutional near the end of 2015.

Even Snowden himself is optimistic, though he believes our right to privacy is still under threat. In a June New York Times op-ed, he writes:

“The balance of power is beginning to shift. We are witnessing the emergence of a post-terror generation, one that rejects a worldview defined by a singular tragedy. For the first time since the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, we see the outline of a politics that turns away from reaction and fear in favor of resilience and reason. With each court victory, with every change in the law, we demonstrate facts are more convincing than fear. As a society, we rediscover that the value of a right is not in what it hides, but in what it protects.”

As more people are becoming aware of how their government collects data, an opportunity to change it emerges.

If you’re still straddling the privacy fence, make a conscious effort to help protect your private information. Read the terms of service, be more aware of what you’re sharing online, update your privacy settings on your social media accounts, and take back your privacy by installing ExpressVPN on all your Internet-enabled devices.


Featured Image: Onsemeliot (Der Wizzleblower Edward Snowden als beliebig verlustrei skalierbares Vekorportrait.) [CC BY 4.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons