Thoughts on Snowden’s Dead Man’s Switch

It would have been more morally pure for Snowden to choose to stay home and face the consequences after his act of civil disobedience.

I don’t think it follows, however, that Snowden is acting irrationally or treasonously or (wrongly) “taking a hostage” by setting up (or claiming to set up) an information-disclosure insurance policy against reprisals by the US. For evidence for this proposition one need look no further than the very eloquent NYT op-ed by Nasser al-Awlaki, The Drone That Killed My Grandson. Remember that we now live in a country that has a track record of executing US citizens (so-called “targeted killing”) without trial, at least outside the US. The limiting principle, we are told, is that the US only does this when it considers them a grave threat, and cannot get hold of them any other way because they are beyond the reach of arrest — not principles likely to be of great comfort to a Snowden.

For a cryptographer’s analysis of this tactic, see Bruce Schneier’s, Snowden’s Dead Man’s Switch. Schneier suggests it may be counter-productive:

I’m not sure he’s thought this through, though. I would be more worried that someone would kill me in order to get the documents released than I would be that someone would kill me to prevent the documents from being released. Any real-world situation involves multiple adversaries, and it’s important to keep all of them in mind when designing a security system.

A commentator counters that in fact this creates a different incentive:

If the US does not want these secrets released then it is in their interests to keep him alive.

It’s also makes it more imperative to capture him in case anyone else kills him.

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2 Responses to Thoughts on Snowden’s Dead Man’s Switch

  1. eric_baudaux says:

    Mr Snowden should have been morally pure in a country that has a track record of “targeted killing” without trial and with very few consideration, if at all, for an act of civil disobedience that remains officially denied:

    Are you personally ready for such an act of civil disobedience. And if so would you stay home to face the consequences afterwards?

  2. Vic says:

    You use the word “moral,” but I suspect all we are really talking about is “agreement.”

    For the record, I LOATHE that our government has decided, unilaterally, that it can do whatever it wants and that it is perfectly justified by saying it has such-and-such to do with “National Security” as if that’s a magic mantra. And make no mistake, that’s how it works. It is, in effect, a limited bureaucratic coup – a no-man’s-land into which our Constitution and the People may not tread.

    What is ABSOLUTELY shocking to me is how people just don’t care. For every one that raises a stink about it (and I’d put myself into that category) there’s 100 people who just don’t care, don’t have any idea of the nature of it, or think that it’s perfectly fine for government to do what it deems (again, unilaterally) it must in the name of National Security. “Kill a U.S. citizen? – that’s OK since the government says we’re better off without him causing trouble in the world…” “the NSA is recording my phone calls? [and make no mistake – they ARE and have admitted as such] That’s OK since I’ve done nothing wrong…” “The government is reading my emails? Why do you CARE, so you have something to HIDE?” It’s shocking.

    But I suspect that it’s a bed made by Apple, and Facebook, and… We’ve created a world that does not value technical ability, but puts primacy on the USE of ready-made technology. So now we have an entire population that can update Facebook with all their mindless chatter, but hasn’t got the slightest actual idea how to be technologically private – to turn the faucet OFF again. In fact, they’ve forgotten there even IS a faucet. And since they’ve done nothing wrong, why SHOULDN’T the group of people hanging on their every Facebook brain-dump now include government?

    I’ve encouraged ALL of my friends to start using encryption for email – if for no other reason than to annoy the NSA – but not ONE has even given it a thought. I take that back, my wife has it for the rare occasion she might need me to email her a password, or something, but she won’t otherwise use it.

    So back to my original point, I think the the morality of the situation is just what people have decided about it. Its morality to you and I may be one thing, but to the vast majority of the American people, Big Brother is ONLY a TV show and has no further import. To their morality, fed to them by their betters (read: those actually willing to think, who also have the bully pulpit of TV) Snowden is wrong, because he’s doing something that the Government doesn’t like. I think for most people, it all just ends there…with a thud.

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