A few days before you revealed the NSA’s hacking of telecommunications and Internet traffic around the world I was giving a presentation here in Hong Kong at the Open Data Hong Kong’s 3rd meetup on, ‘What is Open Data’. I started with a quote from Rufus Pollack, co-founder of the Open Knowledge Foundation saying in 2012, “Today we find ourselves in the midst of an open data revolution”. That revolution has ended up on Hong Kong’s doorstep with you fleeing here and stories now across the pages of most of the territory’s newspapers for the past several days.
The U.S. government is making decisions behind closed doors to manufacture for itself what is being done is legal but at the same time choosing to hide this manufactured legal truth from its own citizens. Personally, I am not that worried about my privacy. By choosing to use free internet based services such as Google Gmail, Google+, Facebook, WordPress and many others I grant the right for these services to know what I’m doing online in return for the free services they provide. I’ve long suspected that Internet service companies and various governments are monitoring most anything I’m doing online. However, if the US government monitors all electronic and telecommunication networks I do want to know that it is being done and with sufficient detail to understand the breadth and scope of the monitoring. I do not want to be lied to on an almost daily basis starting with President Obama and going down his chain of command.
The people who approve and are nominally in charge of these monitoring programmes likely do not have the technical expertise to understand how these programmes work. These programmes are not automatic, not done by anonymous machines and most simply are not magic. I suspect that in any 24-hour period these monitoring programmes only work at best around 75% to 85% effectiveness and it may be much less some of the time. You have been one of the thousands of people writing code, monitoring routines, and making hourly, daily, weekly and longer adjustments to a wildly complex group of systems that at any moment may stop working. You and others who do make these monitoring programmes work do not share the same philosophy as the people in charge and no amount of signing confidentiality agreements is going to make your change you philosophy. I want to thank-you for standing up and doing what is right at great personal risk. We are all better off that people like yourself, Daniel Ellsberg, Julian Assange, Bradley Manning and many others choose to stand-up and tell the truth.
I hope you got to see some of the Dragon Boat Festival, 龍船節, racing yesterday. Qu Yuan’s, 屈原, story is both sad and uplifting. The people so loved him they wanted to keep him safe. Hong Kong is a wonderful city and I know if will fight for openness and transparency and I hope it will keep you safe.