You are being watched.
Edward Snowden told the world exactly that in June of 2013, as he sat in front of The Guardian’s camera.
Just four days after shattering the one-way mirror that concealed the modern surveillance state, the former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor explained the secret, vast, and unwarranted spying of the U.S. government.
“Even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded,” Snowden said.
As the year progressed, news organizations around the world ran stories that supported his claims.
Le Monde reported the United States monitored telephone communications of more than 70 million French citizens in one month. Der Spiegel reported the United States tapped German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s cellphone for more than a decade. The Guardian ran NSA-related stories on a near-daily basis.
Here in America, after the Department of Justice seized Associated Press phone records, frustrated journalists found hope in a remote part of the nation: Montana.
In April of 2013, the Montana Legislature passed a bill that forces state and local law enforcement to obtain search warrants before receiving cellphone records. Several weeks later, Snowden exposed the NSA, and Montana emerged as a presumptive leader in the global fight for privacy.
Montana’s law received applause after coverage in The Washington Post and The New York Times. The Atlantic Wire even ran a headline that read “If You Don’t Want the Government to Spy on You, Move to Montana.”
But as our staff writer Brett Berntsen found while reporting the cover story, geography holds no real power in the information age.
If you carry a smartphone like 56 percent of American adults, you are essentially a walking information leak. No matter where you are, your location, interests, social contacts, and daily habits are tracked and stored by Facebook, Amazon, Yahoo, Google, Pandora, YouTube, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, iTunes, and plenty of lesser-known entities.
As citizens, we’ve made it easy on those who want our secret information, be they government agencies, corporations, or hackers.
Oscar Wilde once said fox hunting is “the unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable.’’ Now, it is the unseeable in full pursuit of the unfleeable.
We’ve taken the work out of the hunt and reap no rewards for serving ourselves on a platter. The ones who benefit are those who exploit citizen data for their own purposes — the government, corporations, and black-hat hackers. Our only hope is journalists will learn to exploit the data for the benefit of the people.
With that in mind, we welcome you to Montana Journalism Review 2014. We hope you enjoy yourselves.
Now smile for the camera.
Austin Green, Managing Editor
Henriette Lowisch, Editor-in-Chief