For its 25th anniversary, Wired Magazine asked numerous luminaries to pick a figure from the digital world to celebrate; Edward Snowden chose EFF Pioneer Award Winner Malkia Cyril, executive director of the Center for Media Justice and cofounder of the Media Action Grassroots Network, who is one of the leaders in teaching grassroots activists to resist government surveillance.
Cyril's mother was a Black Panther leader, subjected to heavy state surveillance (her file, eventually FOIAd from the FBI by Cyril and her sister, ran to 1,422 pages). Informed by this legacy of surveillance and its role in system oppression, Cyril has led the charge to ensure "equal access to technology and communication."
Snowden describes the connection between his whistleblowing and Cyril's work, about the role of surveillance in singling out whole populations (notably African Americans and Muslims) as "perpetually guilty."
Malkia's organizations help to safeguard groups like Black Lives Matter against surveillance. Their work is a reminder that if we want to have a sense of how the future may feel for all of us, we need to examine how the past and present have felt for some of us. For most of history, surveillance was costly and resource-intensive, so governments had to be selective in whom they targeted. Today, surveillance is digital, automated, and pervasive, and governments can afford to track and record nearly everyone.
When I first came forward, I warned that the surveillance system the government had created had terrible potential for abuse. In the wrong hands, it offered the opportunity for "turnkey tyranny." Nothing that has occurred since has changed that assessment. Much of it has deepened my concern.
This is not science fiction—it is happening now, with those on the edge of society knowing all too well what it means to live under the unblinking eye of judgment. Truly understanding their experience may be our last chance to stay free. Malkia's radical lesson is about the nature of rights: The best way to protect somebody is to protect everybody—especially the most vulnerable among us.
Edward Snowden on Protecting Activists Against Surveillance [Edward Snowden/Wired]
(Image: Dignidadrebelde, CC-BY)