open the snowden files

Geert Lovink
Sat Jul 5 14:29:38 EDT 2014

(fwd. from the nettime mailinglist /geert)

from: Krystian Woznicki <>

the snowden files are of public interest. but only a small circle of
people is able to access, read, analyze, interpret and publish them. and
only a very small percentage of those files has been made available to
the public.

those who belong to the small circle of people, tend to argue that this
has to do with security reasons. so one could say, that the leaked files
have been "secured" in order to prevent bigger harm. yet, in the very
sense that "data is the oil of the 21 century" one can also say, that
the snowden files have been privatised by people who try to exploit them
according to their own interests.

what can be done about this situation? are we able to find a way to
"open" this data? and in the course of this create a modell for future

many researchers, activistis and technology experts (not to speak of
other journalists than the "few luckey ones") have a great interest to
work with those files. imagine the historical impact on sciences, social
movements and it-infrastructures, if those files would serve as material
to study and learn from in the respective areas.

the snowden story has been a great, exceptional media narrative -- if
only for its unusual duration (unfolding over the course of more than a
year and stimulating a variety of debates). but the fact, that material,
that one brave whistleblower considered to be worth of public interest,
has been "secured" or "privatised", rendering again unaccessible what
previously has been unaccessible -- doesn't this fact add a very
unsettling layer to the narrative, turning the success story into
somewhat of a tragedy?

yesterday at the netzwerk recherche conference in hamburg (the great
gathering of the investigative community) i confronted luke harding
( with this question.

prior to my intervention harding had already hinted at some very obvious
limitations of the ongoing investigation, alluding to various reasons
why those "few lucky ones" are incapable to deal with the investigation
challenge in an approriate manner: "we are not technical experts" or
"after two hours your eyes pop out". inspite of this, harding seemed
unprepared to refelect the possibility to open the small circle of
analysts dealing with the snowden files.

to paraphrasie his response: yes, it is a dilemma, that only few people
can look at the snowden files and draw their own conclusions. however
this limitation is a natural result of their very precarious nature
(files containing state secrets) and a consequence of the massive
pressure by the government.  nonetheless, 'if you have a special
project' you could contact alan rusbridger and probably get him to
provide you with the requested material...

a request for files -- such a request is usually directed towards
somewhat obscure organistions and corporations and it is usually
articulated by the press (deploying the freedom of information law or
other legal instruments); such a request is usually denied at first. and
as the histrory of investigative journalism shows: one must fight for
one's right to access for information including going to court.

such a request for files is an important, if not the most important,
instrument *for the press*. but now it is the press itself (respectively
some of its representatives) towards which such a request needs to be
articulated. this is absurd and prompts many questions, including:

to whom are organisations like the guardian accountable?

a couple of things one could do about it:

* such requests may seem futile, but they are an instrument and as the
experience shows, one can win the fight.

* one can consider to complain at e.g. the press complaints commission
with regard to media corporations exercising exclusive control over the
files -- in germany for example this sort of (quasi-monopolistic)
control violates the so called presserat-kodex.

* last but not least: one should work out a concept/model for
transferring those files into the public domain -- taking also into
account the obvious problems of "security" and "government pressure".

it would be great of we could start a debate about in order to build a
case for the future of handling big data leaks in a more democratic and
sustainable manner.

i will also write a german version of this post for
and i am more than happy to include some of your responses into that

best wishes,


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