One of Israel’s best online publications – +972 Magazine – has for the first time chosen someone unconnected to Israeli/Palestinian issues as its “Person of the Year.”
That person is Edward Snowden.
The unusual move by this progressive, politically searing outlet in Israel is testament to just how strongly Snowden’s leaks have reverberated across political spectra. And as +972 Magazine revealed, it is also testament to just how critical Snowden’s leaks are when considering the very nature of the Internet itself, and what it may become.
I found this selection from its editors to be quite compelling:
As journalists, we are experiencing firsthand how the Internet has altered our profession, putting some of us out of work while creating new opportunities for others, ones that we couldn’t have imagined a decade ago. A project like 972 Magazine could not have existed without the platforms provided by WordPress and Google, Facebook and Twitter.
But as much as we are aware of the significance of these massive changes, the small amount of attention we pay to the battle over the Internet is astonishing. Until we are faced with a specific problem – a website crashing, a webpage removed, a Facebook account hacked – we tend to take it all for granted.
Rather, we used to tend to take things for granted. That is, until a soft-spoken, geeky-looking computer specialist showed us how fragile the new freedoms provided by technology are and the degree to which the virtual universe is exposed to manipulation and abuse. He showed us how underdeveloped our thinking is on privacy and political participation in this virtual space. He showed us just how exposed we are in the face of power in this virtual world – more than we could have ever imagined, let alone agreed to, in our more physical existence.
This is the context in which Edward Snowden’s act needs to be understood. One had to have been especially naïve to think that the U.S. government was not spying on the German chancellor or the Israeli prime minister, as Snowden’s documents revealed. The more tech-savvy among us knew well that digital communications are traceable, though few ever imagined the scope of the NSA’s surveillance programs. But the story is not just your email, or the records of your phone calls stored on NSA servers and maybe shared with your own government. The issue at hand is the Internet, and what it will become: a force of freedom or the perfect machine for surveillance and control.
A force for freedom or the perfect machine for surveillance and control. These are the stakes, brilliantly articulated. Kudos to +972 Magazine for recognizing Snowden’s impact as a global one, and a critical one.
For all of the world’s citizens.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, just out from Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.