Trust, Truth and Transparency have become watchwords in recent years and that has much to do with the revelations made by Edward Snowden. What Edward Snowden did was to draw attention to the fact that telecom providers, some of the major tech companies, and government institutions were not respecting our data privacy giving rise to changes in approach, attitude and even legislation.
Edward Snowden and his career
Edward Snowden is an American intelligence contractor who in 2013 revealed the existence of secret wide-ranging information-gathering programs conducted by the National Security Agency (NSA).
Snowden worked as a security guard at the Center for Advanced Study of Language, a University of Maryland research facility affiliated with the NSA. Despite a relative lack of formal education and training, Snowden demonstrated an aptitude with computers, and he was hired by the Central Intelligence Agency in 2006. He was given a top secret clearance and in 2007 was posted to Geneva, where he worked as a network security technician under a diplomatic cover.
Snowden left the CIA for the NSA in 2009, there he worked as a private contractor for the companies Dell and Booz Allen Hamilton. During this time, he began gathering information on a number of NSA activities—most notably, secret surveillance programs that he believed were overly broad in size and scope.
In May 2013 Snowden requested a medical leave of absence and flew to Hong Kong, where during the following month he conducted a series of interviews with journalists from the newspaper The Guardian. Among the NSA secrets leaked by Snowden was a court order that compelled telecommunications company Verizon to turn over metadata (such as numbers dialed and duration of calls) for millions of its subscribers. Snowden also disclosed the existence of PRISM, a data-mining program that reportedly gave the NSA, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and the Government Communications Headquarters—Britain’s NSA equivalent—“direct access” to the servers of such Internet giants as Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple.
The Impact of the Snowden revelations
Although U.S. Pres. Barack Obama was critical of Snowden’s methods, in August 2013 he announced the creation of an independent panel to examine the U.S. government’s surveillance practices. That panel’s findings, published in December 2013, recommended that the mass collection of telephone records be suspended and advised greater oversight of sensitive programs, such as those targeting friendly foreign leaders. Obama acted on a number of these suggestions and recommended congressional review of others, but the role of the NSA and its data-collection efforts remained a bone of contention between the intelligence community and privacy advocates. In April 2014 The Guardian U.S. and The Washington Post were awarded the Pulitzer Prize for public service for their roles in reporting on the NSA leaks. Snowden characterized the award as “a vindication” of his efforts to bring the secret surveillance programs to light.
What does it mean for HR ?
It’s relatively easy to obtain online information on anyone, and the extent and depth of that gets greater by the day. Add to this advances in intelligent technology and analytics and the opportunities are there for each us to be read like an open book.
What does it all mean for those of us involved in Human Resources. It presents us with a huge opportunity to better understand people on an individual level and what motivates them. The possibility now exists to really drill down, analyze and understand what the data we have on an individual really tells us. There are of course risks involved in storing this kind of data analysis not to mention ethical issues around the degree to which an individual’s privacy is being violated.
At a time when trust in established institutions and media has plumbed serious lows there has never been a better time for the world of business to step up and re-establish trust; HR can do much here to take the lead. Trust in the security and privacy of data is essential, trust that customers and employees are told the truth, trust that the opaque gives way to the transparent, and above all trust in each other and our work.
Edward Snowden is appearing at UNLEASH America in Las Vegas on May 14 and 15. Be sure to join the show and hear his insights into how organisations can ensure not only that they are creating trust, but what steps they can take to feel cyber-secure while respecting the need for privacy, transparency and truthfulness.