PRISM scandal unequivocally underscores how much the king is naked

Jun 10, 2013
government surveillance
tech giants
traditional media
PRISM scandal reveals government surveillance of tech giants, raising concerns about privacy and the concentration of power.
It appears that Barack Obama's 'Yes, We can' administration is beholden to a larger power system, indifferent to political parties, elections, voters, and any other type of support. Edward Snowden, an NSA data analyst, exposed documents proving that the government obtained confidential data from nearly all of the tech giants, ranging from Apple to Facebook, with virtually no exceptions. This revelation confirms the existence of the unspoken 'Big Brother' of our world, and its implications will be profound. Despite the excellent coverage by the Guardian, NYT, and Washington Post, this does not signify a resurgence of journalism or traditional companies. Instead, it demonstrates that our safety will be enhanced when we are not reliant solely on a handful of companies.
The involved companies responded vigorously and passionately, naturally denying the extent of the allegations. The CEOs of these companies strongly refuted the claims. Regardless of their validity, it's unconceivable that there won't be repercussions for these companies' businesses. If the allegations are true, then Apple, for instance, doesn't sell phones, but tracking devices that the government uses to monitor your location. It's one thing knowing these companies hold massive amounts of user data; facilitating government access to this information is another matter entirely. Among the tech giants, only Twitter appears as a 'rebel' regarding their users' data. The microblogging site comes out unscathed and will undoubtedly reap significant reputation benefits.
Journalists and journalism companies are displaying somewhat sadistic schadenfreude, or pleasure derived from others' misfortune. They believe this situation proves that big tech companies can't be trusted to handle the responsibility of informing the public, a role for which traditional media is well-suited. However, this belief is false. While the allegations are grave and could have severe consequences for the implicated companies, they do not suggest a return of "old journalism" or that traditional news companies deserve support due to their integrity. The reality, as I see it, is far from this. Most traditional media outlets share the same, if not greater, promiscuous proximity to power that Snowden accuses the tech giants of having.
Regardless of the implicated companies' level of responsibility, the problem lies elsewhere. Big companies do what big companies do - they make money. In their quest, they disregard anything that stands in their way. This isn't news - it's business as usual. This episode does prove one thing, but it's not that Silicon Valley is less trustworthy than traditional media. What is clear is that a healthier media ecosystem has a diverse range of players, and audiences aren't dependent on just a few. Imagine, for instance, a country where media is dominated by a few family groups. Is there any chance of transparent coverage in such a country?
We live in a world of big data, and that's not going to change. Newspapers, printed and with advertising-based business models, will become obsolete. How we process information and how society informs itself will continue to evolve. Allegations like these aren't the result of extensive media investigations, but of a brave whistleblower. Two years ago, it was the English tabloids on the stand, which have had journalistic relevance in the past. The problem is how we are going to live with this. How will we force governments - and information companies - to be more transparent? How will we define the boundaries of 'mine', 'yours', 'ours', 'theirs', and the public and private? How will society safeguard its constitutional freedoms knowing that companies adhere to guidelines that aren't always aligned with the population's? And how will we keep the government within the law?
Democratic societies should have the power to legislate on these matters, and this is where the great tragedy of this episode lies. States governed by the rule of law, under a democratic regime, are being controlled by interests that disregard the true source of power - the electorate. Power centers such as security agencies remain unchanged and unaccountable to Congress, banks become large enough to jeopardize entire countries' economies, politicians create government models to perpetuate their own power and fantasize about popular populism. As Jonathan Freedland's article states, Obama emerges disgracefully stained from this situation. "George W. Obama". A regrettable epitaph for a figure who once embodied hope in a country that once symbolized democracy.

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