On Wednesday evening, Eben Moglen of the Software Freedom Law Center delivered the first in a series of lectures at Columbia Law School on Edward Snowden, how to conceive of his leaks, and the impact they're likely to have on the course of world history.
Moglen, a professor of law and legal history at Columbia, felt compelled to begin speaking on these subjects due in part to the radical position being taken by the U.S. and allied governments. As he put it, "We are being told that spying on entire societies is normal." In order to carry out that spying, the U.S. is employing "procedures of totalitarianism," he argued.
Those are strong words.
On reflection, I find it hard to argue with them. The Obama Administration has been careful to pretend that it favors strict limits that prevent Americans from being spied upon, but no one denies that when it comes to the citizens of foreign countries, the U.S. believes we should be totally unconstrained in hovering up whatever information we see fit, targeting not just foreign militaries and bureaucrats but regular citizens too. In our view, their phone calls, emails, and web-browsing habits are all fair game, even if citizens are not at all suspected of terrorism or any other crime. It is no exaggeration to say that we've constructed sufficient infrastructure to gather and store more information on innocents than any government in history, totalitarian or otherwise. And our occasionally explicit goal is, in fact, total information awareness.