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Surveillance after Snowden: Effective Espionage in an Age of Transparency is the most thorough analysis of the impact the Edward Snowden leaks have had on the US and UK’s national security. Informed in part by interviews with leading intelligence officials, the publication exposes the serious damage done by Snowden and the grave consequences this had for counter-terrorism and law enforcement agencies’ work.
Drawing lessons for the future, the new publication explores issues concerning surveillance; government legislation regarding Signals Intelligence; government access to data; private companies’ access to data; areas for potential reform; and the sufficiency of current oversight mechanisms.
Public consent is vital in order for intelligence agencies to be able to credibly operate. However, the report demonstrates that there are very good reasons for states to keep secrets. Therefore, while complete transparency is impossible, translucency must not be. As leading intelligence officials have said, such a model would allow the public to see the ‘broad patterns of movements […but] not the fine print’. This means agencies opening up further than they have in the past. Yet, it also means civil society accepting that unalloyed transparency is not always a positive.
Key findings on national security issues include:
Changes in target behaviour and communication methods
Snowden’s disclosures about the NSA and GCHQ have led to changes in suspects’ behaviour, as terrorists and criminals better understand the scope and scale of Western intelligence capacity. Intelligence sources have attempted to provide an insight into the day-to-day impact that Snowden has had on their work. For example:
Damaging military capabilities
The files which Snowden accessed are not limited to material relating to communications interception. Snowden created digital keys which allowed him into a variety of intelligence and military systems.
Damaging relations between Communication Service Providers and the state
Following the Snowden disclosures, a significant divide has emerged between the government and the CSPs, who were outraged at the intelligence agencies’ ability to access their data.
Escalation is inevitable, as the NSA and GCHQ step up their efforts to break into these networks.
Robin Simcox, author of the report and National Security Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society, said:
“There is a serious problem here. Intelligence agencies are being encouraged to be less intrusive and more transparent but just as effective. Yet Edward Snowden’s reckless actions have seriously hamstrung agencies such as NSA and GCHQ at a time when the West is facing a variety of challenges from terrorism, cyber crime and aggressive nation states.
The current system is not perfect, but there is no regime of mass surveillance and it is irresponsible to suggest that there is. The US and UK intelligence agencies are doing vital work in protecting national security and must be allowed to continue to do so.”