Vargas Llosa misses point on Snowden

Peruvian-Spanish author Mario Vargas Llosa has expressed his views on the Snowden-case in an El País op-ed that is syndicated today in many European newspapers. The Nobel Prize winner says that net whistle-blowers like Snowden and Wikileak’s Julian Assange have revealed nothing we did not already know and that they abuse the freedoms that Western democracies protect, therefore playing into the hands of the enemies of those freedoms: dictators and terrorists. While Netopia hesitates to argue with such a distinguished intellectual, Vargas Llosa misses the point. We all knew that the state spies on us in all sorts of different ways and we all knew that there is an ugly side to protecting democracy that we’d rather not think so much about. But what Edward Snowden revealed was the extent to which those private companies that have exclaimed themselves protectors of freedom of speech, freedom of information and an unregulated internet collaborates with security agencies. All the talk of how the “free and open internet” is a guarantee for democracy and freedom of speech turned out to be only … talk. Belarusian-American writer/researcher Evgeny Morozov explained this in The Net Delusion (Public Affairs, 2011): the internet services are not vehicles for democracy like Radio Free Europe and other liberal propaganda initiatives, if pushed their loyalty will always be to the profits of the share-holders rather than democratic ideals. This has been the case with Google in China, Nokia Siemens in Iran, Twitter in Turkey, Telia in Belarus (and Uzbekistan. And Azerbaijan.), Ericsson in Syria and many other examples. Edward Snowden revealed this practice was not limited to authoritarian states.

It is easy to mention Julian Assange and Edward Snowden as examples of the same phenomenon, Netopia is also guilty of this (read the story on Iceland). But there is a fundamental difference, Assange seems to want to reveal all secrets of the state and dreams of a world were all information is available to all. Edward Snowden is more of a traditional whistle-blower who wanted to draw attention to abuse of power. Snowden only risked his own well-being, while Bradley Manning ended up paying the price for Assange’s glory. Their stories look similar, but only in a shallow way.