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Have you heard of Edward Snowden? He is currently one of the most talked-about people in the Western world. Depending on who you ask, Snowden is either a hero fighting to protect our liberty, or he is a spy.

Snowden used to work for the US government. A couple of weeks ago, he released information to a newspaper in the UK about how both the US and UK governments monitor telephone calls and emails of private citizens, companies, and foreign governments.

These days, of course, governments claim that they need extra powers to protect us from terrorism. There are basically two schools of thought on this. Some people are not worried about having their phone calls and emails monitored if it helps to protect them from terrorism. These people say that nobody should be worried unless they have something to hide.

The other school of thought is that it is dangerous to give governments powers to monitor their citizens whenever they want to. Even if the aim of these programs at the beginning is to prevent terrorism, the powers will inevitably be abused, and we will lose the freedoms that so many people have died to protect.

As I’m sure you can guess, I am firmly with the second group. I would hate to see the UK and the US becoming like China or North Korea, with the governments monitoring everything that people say and do. Having said that, I also realize that in this digital age, it is going to be almost impossible to prevent it.

So, what do you think? Is being spied on by your own government a price you are willing to pay for security, or do you think it is a slippery slope that will lead to the erosion of freedom?

Look forward to hearing your thoughts.

P.S. As I have used an image of CCTV cameras, please feel free to comment on those as well.

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19 Comments

  1. YU on Monday June 24th, 2013 at 02:51 PM

    Hi David,

    Thank you for answering my question.

    Hi David and everyone,

    I don’t think I can fight against terrorism by myself, but I don’t really want to be monitored my phone calls or emails by the government because the powers will inevitably be abused as David mentioned.

    This topic reminded me of the September 11 attacks.
    In those days I lived in Hamburg in Germany. As you know, Mohammed Atta, one of the suicide bombers studied in a techical university in Hamburg.
    After the attacks, the number of the students from Islamic countries decreased and it was rumored that the government was monitoring phone calls and emails of Muslims living in Germany. There was even a rumor that phone calls and emails of their friends(including non-Muslims) were monitored, too.

    In fact, those programs might have worked to prevent terrorism at that time, but I think some innocent Muslim university appicants must have been refused to enter just because they were Muslims.



  2. ashmoleanmuse on Monday June 24th, 2013 at 05:58 PM

    I totally agree with you, David.

    People say, “I have nothing to hide so I have nothing to fear.” They are naïve enough to believe that the governments could be trusted not to abuse their powers.

    Edward Snowden is brave risking his life. He has sacrificed his family, his girlfriend, his home, and his high-paid job. I hope this will not be in vain. He seeks asylum in Ecuador. I also hope his asylum request will be accepted.

    Ash



  3. Biwa on Monday June 24th, 2013 at 07:18 PM

    Hi everyone,

    Tough topic, isn’t it! To be honest, I don’t really know which side I stand for. I rather agree with David saying that it’s going to be almost impossible to prevent what you say or do being monitored in this digital age.

    If someone in my family or I myself were a victim of some crime or terrorism, I’m pretty sure that I would say the government or police have the right to monitor the suspects. Having said that, I definitely hate those CCTV cameras looking at me wherever I go. However, it’s often the case that those camera records become decisive factors when arresting criminals. Of course, I totally disagree if the monitoring is going to act as a freedom control, though.



  4. Fumie on Tuesday June 25th, 2013 at 09:43 AM

    Hi David and everyone,

    To tell you the truth, I didn’t know much about this incident. So I had to looked up some articles about it and read them. I still don’t know much about it so my idea might be absurd. I don’t want to be monitored my private life by anyone. If there were other ways to prevent terrorism excpt for being monitored by the governments, I would like them to do that.
    As for Edward Snowden, I admire his bravey. He sacrifices his comfortable life and his freedom for justice. I just heard the news on the radio that his whearabouts is unknown.



  5. Biwa on Tuesday June 25th, 2013 at 02:58 PM

    Hi everyone,

    >I just heard the news on the radio that his whearabouts is unknown.

    Snowden’s news has been reported quite largely (? I want to say 「けっこう大きく取り上げられている」) in Nikkei, too. Compared to the Western erosion-of-freedom tone, the Japanese articles seem to focus more on the attitudes of China, Russia and the US/UK.

    I don’t want to make enemies here(lol!), but I don’t really get what’s so new about Snowden’s whistleblowing. Am I missing something? Monitoring and wiretapping has always been done since wartime. Everyone knows that once you enter Google, Facebook, Twitter or whatever world, there is hardly any privacy. I don’t mean I would willingly release my private information to everyone, but I guess it’s just impossible to prevent it.

    I do understand that he is a hero because he leaked the US government’s monitoring it’s citizens, but what if he gets taken hostage in Russia and be forced to leak every state secret he knows? And I hope the PRISM which is the surveillance program NSA has written doesn’t fall into the hands of the terrorists. In that sense, I think he’s acting a bit over-heroic.



  6. YU on Tuesday June 25th, 2013 at 06:24 PM

    Hi Biwa,

    > Snowden’s news has been reported quite largely (? I want to say 「けっこう大きく取り上げられている」) in Nikkei, too.

    There’s a sentence in David’s older entry named “Whaling” ;

    “I don’t know how widely this is being reported in the Japanese media…”

    So, “widely” might be more natural than “largely” here. What do you think?

    Hi everyone,

    > Snowden is either a hero fighting to protect our liberty, or he is a spy.

    It’s hard for me to imagine that the US and UK governments will stop monitoring telephone calls and emails of private citizens, companies, and foreign governments at once just because he leaked everything this time.
    It’s true that he was brave enough to risk his life to protect our liberty, but I wonder if he has the right to detriorate diplomatic relations between states, too.



  7. Biwa on Tuesday June 25th, 2013 at 09:32 PM

    Hi YU,

    Thanks for your help!
    “Widely” sounds more natural than “largely”, but I guess “widely” sounds more like “the incident is known by many people.” I was wondering if there was a way to express “the incident is being reported with a big headline.”

    How about “play up”?
    “Snowden’s news has been played up in Nikkei, too.”



  8. David on Tuesday June 25th, 2013 at 10:01 PM

    How about “has been given a lot of attention in the Japanese media”? “Played up” suggests that it is not actually very important news, but that the media are trying to make it seem as though it is.



  9. Biwa on Tuesday June 25th, 2013 at 10:34 PM

    Hi David,

    Thanks, that’s very helpful.



  10. John Spiri on Wednesday June 26th, 2013 at 02:56 AM

    Thanks for giving me the chance to share my thoughts on this issue!

    Mainly, I see spying as the symptom of a bigger problem. Governments are involved in a real life game of bad guys vs. good guys which leads to all sorts of crimes: killing people with drones, wars, and spying on people, etc. When you see the world in terms of bad guys (who used to be communists, and now have been replaced by “Muslim extremists”) vs. good guys (us, US), then your actions actually create the perception. So these actions that the US takes are actually creating what they fear: enemies, terrorism, and more death and destruction. Just one recent example, consider that the Taliban recently killed eight hikers in Pakistan in retaliation for a drone strike. It’s madness.

    Spying is an unfortunate and frightening aspect of this game. Even if you trust that our governments will do nothing bad, once they establish that practice, and routinely look through people’s private communications, be certain that this power to spy will be abused. I’m sure it has been abused already. Citizens must demand an end to spying, but most importantly see that as part of a larger demand to end “endless war,” to end drone strikes, to end nuclear proliferation, etc.



  11. YU on Wednesday June 26th, 2013 at 05:27 AM

    Hi everyone,

    When the Boston terrorist was found and arrested in some private American citizen’s garden, I saw a lot of local people whistling through their fingers, punching the air with their fists and raising a war cry like, “U-S-A! U-S-A!, U-S-A!”.
    To tell the truth, I found it a very strange scene. I felt it was turning into a war between “Muslim extremists” and “American citizens”.
    I also felt that the US government must have had all information about the suspects and even their families or friends already before the incident, otherwise, how could they arrest them so quickly?

    Obama says, “America will not bow down to terrorism.”, but in my eyes, what he says and does sometimes seems that the US just wants to show off the nation’s power because they are scared of being attacked. And the most scary thing for me is that some Americans are tossed about by Obama.

    As Biwa says, everyone already suspected the US government was monitoring it’s citizens, but what’s new about Snowden’s whistleblowing is that he succeeded to take out the US’s top secret documents from the place he used to work for, and now he has certain proof of it, I guess. Last night I even heard the news that he worked there only to get the evidences.



  12. Biwa on Wednesday June 26th, 2013 at 08:27 AM

    Hi John,

    >Citizens must demand an end to spying, but most importantly see that as part of a larger demand to end “endless war,” to end drone strikes, to end nuclear proliferation, etc.

    I really think so. At the same time, I can’t help thinking that it’s almost impossible. Where there is competition -sports, industry, research or whatever- there is always cheating or peeping. Watching innocent little children, I really feel that it’s part of human instinct. However, it’s a real shame that even good grown-ups cannot control that human nature.

    Hi YU,

    As you say, I guess the easiest way to unite people is to create a common enemy. It’s really sad that even one of the most democratic countries like the US have to do that.

    >Last night I even heard the news that he worked there only to get the evidences.

    Some people even say that China was secretly manipulating this incident. I’m sure this kind of conjecture will cause another spying game.



  13. YU on Wednesday June 26th, 2013 at 09:25 AM

    Hi Kattie and everyone,

    Sorry, this is noting to do with the topic, but did you see this video?

    http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/06/25/watch-spinning-statue-at-manchester-museum-mystifies-staff/

    Isn’t it mysterious?
    The Curse of the Pharaohs??
    If I stayed with Kattie’s family in Manchester now, I’m sure I’d ask her to take me to this museum!



  14. YU on Wednesday June 26th, 2013 at 10:30 AM

    Hi Biwa,

    Have you ever heard of “INTESOL”?
    It provides you TEFL course that can enhance your job prospects in the EFL industry.

    Actually, one of my friends from my English club is taking their 150 hour couse at the moment and she gave me some example task she received from them and her essay to it yesterday. It seems to be very interesting.
    Her English is very good and nothing compared to mine, but I think your English is good enough to take this course and it could be very useful for your job.

    So, if you are interested, please have a look at this site. They have both Japanese and English sites.

    http://www.intesoljapan.com/index.html



  15. Biwa on Wednesday June 26th, 2013 at 12:58 PM

    Hi YU,

    Thank you for the information! 🙂
    I have never heard of INTESOL. It seems to be a very convenient way to get a qualification (if you can!) because they offer a correspondence course. I’ve just requested them for further information materials. Have you? By the way, I’m not sure if my Engish is good enough for the course because I don’t have 英検1級!



  16. YU on Wednesday June 26th, 2013 at 02:17 PM

    Hi Biwa,

    No, because it’s far beyond my English ability(!), but I’m sure your English is good enough even though you don’t have 英検1級.
    They say you can take an English level check test for free to make sure if your English is sufficient for taking the course, so why don’t you take it first?



  17. Fumie on Thursday June 27th, 2013 at 06:48 AM

    Hi everyone,

    My youngest son and I are going to Guam from tonight and come back on Sunday morning. It’s really a short trip and basically we can only spend there for two days. We are going to spend one day for shopping and the other day for joining a beach tour. For him, this is the first time to go abroad. We want to have a superb time!
    This is an economical tour by HIS and using Korean Air. If you’ve ever read “Outliers” , you know I was first afraid of taking Korean Air, especially to Guam. But considering that Korean Air became better and we don’t hear the news of air crash recently by the company, I don’t worry about its’ safety anymore. Wish us luck!



  18. Biwa on Thursday June 27th, 2013 at 09:11 PM

    Hi Fumie,

    Have a great time! 🙂
    My husband uses various airlines for his business trip, even Aeroflot!

    Hi everyone,

    Today, I see no news about Snowden. Is there any in other papers?

    Yesterday’s paper said that he might end up staying in the transit area of Sheremetyevo Airport for a while. I wonder if it is actually possible. Is he in a different place from other transit passengers? I also wonder what Putin and Obama are going to do next.



  19. ashmoleanmuse on Friday June 28th, 2013 at 03:38 PM

    Hi Biwa,

    Yesterday’s paper said that he might end up staying in the transit area of Sheremetyevo Airport for a while.

    This reminds me of Tom Hanks in “The Terminal”.