The Danish Roskilde music festival recently got into a slight controversy over signs warning festival goers about a new policy: complete surveillance of all phone and internet traffic. But it turns out that the festival, which took place over the course of June 24 to July first this year, actually trolled its visitors, hard. With the help of none other than culture jamming and hoaxing group The Yes Men and whistleblower Edward Snowden.
A feedback booth with a comedian posing as a poorly-informed PR representative of the festival was also present, to counter backlash on social media. But the actual intention of the signs and the faux policy was to lure festival goers to a certain stage at a certain time, with “anger marketing”.
What attendants got to experience was a remotely held speech by whistleblower USA Edward Snowden, an excellent speaker on topics like civil rights, privacy and mass surveillance. The massive Roskilde Festival has now released a summary of the events in a Youtube video, which also includes the confounded faces of festival goers encountering an actor who looks like Snowden.
It’s not about Snowden, the person
Regardless of what you think about the optics of Snowden ending up in Russia in the aftermath of his data leak in 2013 and subsequent escape from the USA, we recommend listening to what he has to say. Also worth looking into is the fact that he has no chance of a fair trial in the USA, despite his information having pushed the IT industry towards a path where privacy rights at least are a part of the conversation.
Anyone can figure out that Russian intelligence probably debriefed Snowden upon his arrival in Russia, but the former cybersecurity specialist and NSA contractor’s data leaks have indeed done a lot to raise an unprecedented awareness over information security related topics.
Most of Snowdens revelations are things that have been suspected by information security professionals for years, but were shrugged off as paranoia by the general public and decision makers in business and politics alike.
Most notably, Snowden’s leaks reveal how numerous Western countries, like the United Kingdom and Sweden collaborate with the USA to build a global mass surveillance apparatus that can harvest unfathomable amounts of information from the internet.
How the Snowden Leaks have helped you
The Snowden leaks included information on how Western intelligence agancies collected information from large companies like Google, by eavesdropping on private fiber optic cables. Companies like Google have since actively starting encrypting more traffic, even within their own networks, making customer data more difficult to misuse. Products like Facebook-owned WhatsApp have recently implemented really good encryption for mobile messenger apps, helping to protect the contents of chat conversations between normal, law abiding citizens.
It is no news that surveillance can used to undermine democracy and processes of social progress, as is made apparent by Snowden’s mention of how of authorities hawkishly followed every move of Dr. Martin Luther King during his involvement with the Civil Rights Movement.
With today’s technology, the internet’s weakness for surveillance grants private corporations and governments alike access to information about us all, to an extent that the Soviet KGB, Romanian Securitate or East-German DDR could only have dreamt about. This is not disinformation or a dishonest spin, but a crucial breach of Rechtsstaat principles that help sustain democracy. Also, mass surveillance does little to stop terrorism.
It’s true that Russia presumably is using Snowden’s exile in propaganda and information warfare to create uncertainty and distrust towards Western governments. Making the West look like hypocrites on human rights is always convenient for the Russian state and many other authoritarian regimes. It makes it easier to defend their own practices of restricting internet use and complete digital surveillance, which occurs without any of the thinning legal buffers we still can enjoy in many Western countries.
That’s a reason in itself to stop Western intelligence agencies from undermining civilization.
How you can help
Members of the public can help themselves and less fortunate individuals in oppressive countries to get some online privacy by using and supporting systems like The Tor Project. Albeit being far from perfect, the open source Tor software is, within its limits, the far most efficient tool to remain anonymous online, if used properly.
No commercial vendor of for example, VPN services, can obfuscate the origin of traffic like Tor can. Users need to understand the limitations of what Tor can do for them, including but not limited to sticking to the officially supported Tor Browser, keeping it updated and not revealing information related to their regular identities while using Tor.
At Ink Tank Media, we have chosen to help by hosting a Tor Relay server that participates in obfuscating the origin of traffic from users of free privacy tools like the Tor Browser.
This is a confusing field to navigate for anyone in media and advertising. The online advertising many online media companies rely on, also collects a massive amount of information! We couldn’t really run this site without ads and trackers, yet, it’s plain as day to us that the world needs to find a balance in how personal data is used.
From time to time, we work with Darknet researcher Antti Järventaus, who focuses on understanding and making some sense of some of the hard questions involved with providing anonymity to anyone who needs it.