Sunday, December 01, 2013

Sound of the Year: 2013 – The Tap-Tap Tapping of Internet Surveillance

Image Courtesy Alberto Racatumba
In May 2013, an infrastructure analyst by the name of Edward Snowden, working for US defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, arranged to meet with documentary filmmaker and journalist, Laura Poitras and Guardian commentator Glenn Greenwald.

The meeting took place in Snowden's Hong Kong hotel room after he had fled the United States with a trove of classified information which revealed a 'systematic surveillance of innocent citizens', and which he was now about to reveal to the international press for public scrutiny and judgement.

What ever the final legal opinion of his actions, or one's own opinion of Snowden (traitor, idiot, whistleblower), he expressed his intentions as well meaning:

“It’s important to send a message to government that people will not be intimidated.”(The Washington Post)

On June 7th, after an initial examination and two days after the initial published report of Snowden’s leaks, major outlets reported that “the NSA is accessing the systems of US internet giants including Google and Facebook, and collecting data under a previously undisclosed surveillance programme called Prism. The programme allows officials to collect material including emails, live chats and search histories." (BBC)

Additional NSA documents leaked by Snowden indicated that the NSA had also extended its  practice of casting a wide digital net on both the leaders and citizens of several allied nations.

The sweep inlcuded 70 million digital communications in France, in just one 30-day period alone, between Dec. 2012 and Jan. 2013; and it also revealed that the agency had tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel's cell phone for a decade. Naturally, she and other leaders across the globe expressed outrage.

Certainly, both wire and web tapping have long proved a valid and acceptable means to protect the populace from criminal endeavor. However, the legal interception of electronic communications has typically required a warrant and is usually limited to those communications that meet a stringent standard of relevance to a specific case.

In the United States, in order to obtain a warrant, the FISA [Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] court typically requests the production of records "pertaining to a specific named target who is suspected of being an agent of a terrorist group or foreign state, or a finite set of individually named targets."

Snowden has since been granted asylum in Russia, although his residence in that country is limited to a year. Meanwhile back in the United States, mention of the erstwhile Booz Allen cyber spy continues to ignite heated discussion, as he is defended as a whistleblower by his supporters, and called a traitor by others.

How this story finishes is anyone's guess at this point.

Either way, as a result of Mr. Snowden’s explosive revelations and the ensuing international clamor they caused, the the 2013 Critical Noise Sound of the Year is awarded to the Tap-Tap Tapping of Internet Surveillance.

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The Critical Noise Sound of the Year goes to that sound source, event, entity, happening or concept which so effectively produces wide response and reaction, whether intentional or not, such that it stirs collective emotion, inspires discussion, incites action, or otherwise lends itself to cultural analysis and resonates across the globe.

Sound of the Year winners include Pussy Riot (2012), The Cry for Freedom (2011), The Vuvuzela (2010) and Auto-Tune (2009)

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