In 2013 American journalist Glenn Greenwald set out to meet an anonymous source in a Hong Kong hotel. That source would turn out to be Edward Snowden, and the story – one of systematic and pervasive government surveillance – would shock the world. Week after week newspapers across the world revealed new details of an audacious US-led surveillance program which included banking systems, Russian oil companies, and even European heads of state. In No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State Greenwald describes his secretive meetings with Snowden – now a fugitive – and reveals intricate details of surveillance programs like PRISM, BLARNEY, X-KEYSCORE, and many more.
Whereas the film Citizen Four tends to focus on the ethical implications of government surveillance, No Place to Hide adds many concrete examples taken directly from NSA files, with samples of NSA documents and presentations used to explain the capabilities of each programme.
Two particular aspects of the book struck me as being especially useful for ITGS students. The first is Greenwald’s narrative on the history and development of surveillance, tied as it is to breakthroughs in hardware, software, and networking development. This is an excellent example of how new technology can create problems that had never existed before, and which current laws and legislation did not foresee – which is really one of the cornerstones of understanding ITGS.
The second area is Greenwald’s comparison of ‘new media’ with traditional, establishment media. Particularly relevant in the Snowden case, Greenwald asserts that traditional media generally avoid publishing content significantly critical of the establishment, and therefore lack ‘value’ compared to newer, more disruptive Internet based media. Indeed, although British newspaper The Guardian published a great deal of Greenwald’s content about Snowden and the NSA, they constantly walked a fine line between public interest and revealing classified information. Internet based media does not always face such tight restrictions – although as it becomes more mainstream, it surely will. A discussion on the relative merits and drawbacks of traditional and ‘disruptive’ media could make for a very interesting ITGS lesson.
Overall, No Place to Hide is great wider reading material for ITGS students, with many thought-provoking questions about transparency, online crime, and the balance between national security and privacy in the modern world.