In 2013, one man, one term and one abbreviation appear on the world stage and are now familiar even to those who are not involved with the topic of data protection in any depth: whistleblower Edward Snowden makes the surveillance practices of the NSA (National Security Agency) public. The US foreign intelligence service had been tapping the user data of major American Internet companies such as Google, Apple, Facebook, Microsoft and Skype.
At this point, Snowden is still working as an IT specialist for a service provider of the NSA. For months he has been copying sensitive data in order to publish it. With the data in his luggage, the then 30-year-old flies to Hong Kong, where he meets a journalist from the Guardian, among others. From June 2013 onwards, the English daily newspaper publishes revelations about the surveillance programme called “Prism” and will soon make the identity of the whistleblower public.
In the summer of the same year, the FBI opens an investigation against him for passing on illegal information. Snowden flies to Moscow, intending to travel from there to Venezuela. But because the US authorities confiscate his passport, he has to stay in the Russian capital and eventually apply for asylum there.
Since then, the man with the narrow face and characteristic glasses has lived and worked in Moscow. He writes that his autobiography “Permanent Record” will be published in 2019. He takes part in conferences via video, including this year’s Hypermotion. And he is one of the directors of the “Freedom of the Press Foundation”, which fights for the strengthening of the freedom of the press and freedom of opinion. In 2017, Snowden marries his long-time girlfriend in Moscow, who moved there a year earlier. He has applied for asylum in several EU countries in vain, including Germany. At home in the USA, he faces a prison sentence of several years.
Snowden, who was awarded the alternative Nobel Prize, the Right Livelihood Award, in 2014, made the world more aware of the issue of data protection. In the European Parliament, the negotiations on the European data protection regulation GDPR almost failed in 2013. Snowden’s revelations gave new impetus to the discussion and encouraged the legislation to be adopted. He welcomes the GDPR in principle, but is also critical of it. The real problem is not data protection, but data collection, emphasised Snowden at the Web Summit technology conference in Lisbon in 2019. His sights are set on both government agencies that collect data from citizens and tech companies such as Google and Facebook.
In his capacity as speaker, Edward Snowden has repeatedly advocated freedom of speech and data security. At Cebit 2017, for example, he warned against the use of voice assistants and made a simple request to the providers of cloud storage: ‘The cost of stealing the data must be greater than its value’.
Incidentally, American case law has meanwhile proved Snowden right on one point: a court ruled that spying on American citizens under “Prism” was probably unconstitutional.
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