“Open the Snowden Files!”

Raising New Issues of Public Interest Krystian Woznicki Is there a global surveillance industry, in which states and corporations share interests and files beyond democratic legitimation and control? By raising this question and partly answering it, the Snowden files have proven to be of public interest. This is emphasized by the fact, that they have prompted a great, exceptional media narrative -- if only for its unusual duration (unfolding over the course of more than a year and stimulating a variety of debates). But the political and social impact has been fairly limited. Why has there been no mass protest? Why no major upheaval? My thesis: The public interest has not been exhausted yet. This has also to do with the fact, that the access to the documents of the NSA-Gate remains closed. Material, that one exceptionally brave citizen put together "at the risk of his life" (Constanze Kurz) because he considered it to be of public interest -- this material is not at the disposal of the public now. It has been rendered unaccessible again, devoid of public control. This blocks the democratic potential of the Snowden disclosures. Only a very small percentage of those files has been made available to the public so far. A small circle of people decides about that, being able to access, read, analyze, interpret and publish the Snowden files. Those who belong to the small circle of people tend to argue, that this has to do with security reasons. In this sense one can say, that the leaked files have been "secured" in order to prevent bigger harm. There is also the obvious argument, that this method enables the long lasting media narrative to enfold -- a sustaining visibility that some observers identify as the life insurance of the whistleblower. But what if, in the very sense that "data is the oil of the 21st century" -- what if the Snowden files have been privatized by people who try to exploit them according to their own interests? Recently, there has been some anger directed towards Greenwald, accusing him of "vanity" and "careerism". But apart from that there is no debate about the style of handling this historic data leak. No one asks, whether there is a way to "open" this huge set of data. Considering the current circumstances -- the whistleblower being desperately stuck in Moscow -- it seems far-fetched to come up with such a proposition. Hardly anyone supporting the cause, would want to annul his life insurance plan. Yet, I think that we need to raise the question. Not so much, because actors who work in public service, do not live up to our expectations. No, among many of us the question lies dormant, because processes in the public service should be designed as inclusive as possible in order to live up to the challenges of this specific obligation. But in this context they aren't. Adorno once famously said (I am paraphrasing) "the impact of an art work starts where the intention of the author ends." Building an analogy to Snowden, one may say: The impact of the Snowden files starts to unfold its full potential, where the whistleblower's intention ends (e.g. to work with an exclusive group of people). Many researchers, activists and technology experts (not to speak of other journalists than the "few lucky ones") have a great interest to work with the Snowden files. Actually, it is the very same interest, that was also uttered in the context of the major WikiLeaks-projects a couple of years ago. [0] Imagine the historical impact on sciences, social movements and IT-infrastructures, if those files would become public domain and serve as material to study as well as to learn from. At the netzwerk recherche summit in Hamburg (the big gathering of the investigative community) I confronted Luke Harding [1], the author of "The Snowden Files", with this issue at the Q&A session of his panel. Prior to my intervention Harding had already hinted at some limitations of the ongoing investigation, alluding to various reasons why those "few lucky ones" are incapable to deal with the analytical challenge in an appropriate manner: "We are not technical experts". Or: "After two hours your eyes pop out". In spite of this, Harding seemed unprepared to reflect the possibility to open the small circle of actors currently dealing with the Snowden files. publishing activity. This approach could also work for Snowden. Is this all our model needs to consider? Probably not. Any feature, whether already mentioned or not, requires in depth scrutiny by the public. For now, we could start by asking: Why is there only one publicly available counter of the Snowden files in the world, maintained by John Youngs Cryptome under the project name Tally Update [10]? Why are not actors from within circle of the lucky few providing such a service? Or at least help such a project with fact checking? Why are the Snowden files not handled in a less restrictive manner? Aren’t there smarter ways to go about it? And when thinking about public interest: Do we have to make a decision between Snowden’s life insurance and open access to the files? Or are there ways to reconcile both concerns? The discussion entails reflections on the foundations of our democracy. It is not the worst moment in history to rethink most of them. Krystian Woznicki is journalist, cultural critic and founder of berlinergazette.de. This text (CC by nc) has been published in German [11] with an option to join the discussion by writing feedback in the comment section [12]. The Berliner Gazette has published an extensive dossier on the Snowden debate [13]. In this text the name of Ewan Tarkan was changed by the editors. Links 0. http://berlinergazette.de/wikileaks-nachhaltigkeit-cablegate 1. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Luke_Harding 2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Seymour_Hersh 3. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Press_Complaints_Commission 4. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Deutscher_Presserat 5. http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pressekodex 6. http://www.icij.org/journalists/stefan-candea 7. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Offshore_leaks 8. http://geheimerkrieg.de 9. http://documentcloud.org 10. http://cryptome.org/2013/11/snowden-tally.htm 11. http://berlinergazette.de/open-the-snowden-files 12. http://berlinergazette.de/open-the-snowden-files/#comments 13. http://berlinergazette.de/feuilleton/dossiers/post-snowden