Tools and Weapons: The Promise and the Peril of the Digital Age

Tools and Weapons

Key Insights

Technological advancement is a powerful thing. It can also be a scary one. Like when NSA employee Edward Snowden downloaded 1.5 million classified NSA documents, he left his job in Hawaii, and headed to Hong Kong. Later, he revealed the classified documents to journalists and the public discovered the NSA and the British Government had been copying user information from Yahoo and many other sources. One such program PRISM was an agreement between NASA and various companies where they shared private user data. The release of this information lead to citizens questioning how their data was being used by major tech companies, and more importantly if major tech companies could be trusted. In Tools and Weapons by Brad Smith and Carol Ann Brown, significant events in tech are analyzed, and lessons are shared: revealing that the relationship between user data and who can see it is actually a bit more complex than it may seem... especially when the government gets involved.

Key Points

Customer approval seems ideal for determining whether or not to share their data, but there is a gray area.

Theoretically, customer data should not be shared without the legal process. If a person doesn’t agree to share their data, no one should have access to it, right?

Unfortunately, it's pretty hard to get legal consent from someone if you can’t find them, especially when someone’s life is on the line. For instance, when Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped by a group of terrorists in Pakistan, the only way to save him was to find him. The terrorists communicated with the US government through wifi hotspots throughout Pakistan. Pearl was killed before they were caught, but the terrorists were caught. They were found using web-based tracking. Was using data to track them ok, even though they didn’t receive explicit consent?

In this instance, yes, because it meant life could be saved. The point? All data tracking and sharing aren’t wrong. Even Microsoft thinks so: this chase led them to scale their ideas on customer privacy. They determined that when faced with an issue that could violate a user’s privacy, they would follow these principles: Privacy, security, transparency, and compliance.

The government shouldn’t use their powers to gain access to citizen’s personal data, and tech companies need to be protected.

The government began pursuing information from tech companies while trying to track terrorists, a noble deed, but it devolved into forcing tech companies to give them private information about American Citizens, and invoking “gagging orders”. These “gagging orders” were laws preventing the companies from disclosing that they were being hacked by the government. Eventually, Microsoft sued the government over this heinous breach of privacy. This lead to the Department of Justice ruling in favor of tech companies. Microsoft met with the Department of Justice, during which limits were set on gagging orders. This was one of the first steps taken to monitor the use of people’s data.

Each country needs to be treated differently when it comes to access to its citizen’s data.

Microsoft also had to determine how to decide how their rules about data access should apply to each country they worked with. After hearing speeches from people like 75-year-old Hans-Jochen Scheidler who was imprisoned in Germany after he was determined by spies to be handing out literature which criticized the regime, it became apparent that different countries needed different rules. It was determined that countries with troubling human rights records would not be given access to citizens’ information. Period. Those with questionable records could have access to citizens’ business data, but nothing else.

Tech companies must be free to adapt to cyber attacks.

When Patrick Ward went in for heart surgery, to his surprise, the doctor couldn’t operate on him. This was because St. Bartholomew’s hospital had been hacked. Each computer displayed a message that the user must pay $300 or they would lose access to their information forever. This is a pretty big deal, especially in a hospital. The instance illustrates the power of Cyberweapons, which continuously advance. Technological companies need to capabilities to adapt to the threat of cyber weapons and cyber attacks

Governments can use social media to sway voters - reminding us to be careful about trusting what we see on the internet

Political activism doesn’t always start on the streets. Now, more than ever, it starts on the internet. Especially on social media. Governments’ know this and they can use this knowledge to stir up problems. During the 2016 election, Russian operatives from the IRA (Internet Research Agency) leaked fake stories about Hillary Clinton, including accusations of her being a pedophile or in ill health. These rumors were only shared to certain circles: increasing polarity between those who supported her and those who did not. They also managed to organize both a counter Trump and a pro-Trump protest in Houston Texas at the same time. Our government and corporations are not the only threat to internet privacy: foreign governments are also interested in planting information and stirring up trouble.

AI is not necessarily something to fear: but it can reflect the biases of its engineers.

People are often concerned with AI. They worry that the development of artificial intelligence will lead to undefeatable machines with superior intelligence and their own agenda. In fact, currently the greatest threat AI poses is a reflection of the bias of its creators. An article was published with the headline “There’s Software Being Used Across the Country to Predict Criminals. And It’s Biased Against Blacks”, and it highlighted an important point in the development of software: checks need to happen to prevent bias from leaking in. The software being developed reflected the biases of those who created it. It also reflected a certain bias because of the facial familiarity feature of the software. The solution? Making sure there was a more diverse group of engineers present to check the software. Engineers who had faced any version of oppression are especially mindful of these blunders and can be an aid to getting rid of them.

Technology isn’t all bad.

It's important to remember that technology is also often used for good. It can be used to decode ancient texts. Marina Rustow at Princeton uses technology to help her decode 4,000 documents from Cairo’s Ben Ezra Synagogue. Quite a formidable task: but with the help of technology, it is possible. There’s also an algorithm that predicts poaching behavior, and helps park rangers in Uganda ward off poachers, protecting animals. These examples show that technological advances can have many positive uses: even for our furry friends.

The responsibility for the safe use of technology should not rest fully on tech companies or governmental bodies. Both are responsible.

A successful relationship between technology, government, and humans is an incredibly complex one without any simplistic solutions. However, Tech companies need to understand that they cannot be indifferent to their clients and how their technology is used. There needs to be a consideration of how their product is being used, beyond consumerism. Responsibility also lies with the government: they need to understand and regulate the technological products that are being created and sold, while also not issuing orders demanding information from tech companies.

So, while some tech advances are exciting (like technology that wards off poachers) other aspects of tech can be scary (like foreign governments planting stories on social media) and some can be downright terrifying (like the government forcing companies to give them our data) the most important way we can face the issue is with information and knowledge. Like the AI that becomes less scary when we know the primary issue is with the creators, not the technology, understanding is essential. One key role in understanding? Information. It's a powerful thing. And how do you get that? Why…. reading summaries like this one!

About the Author

Brad Smith is Microsoft’s president. He has done work there to help the company work through critical issues including the intersection of technology and society, including cybersecurity, privacy, AI, human rights, immigration, and environmental sustainability. He has been named as one of the technology industry’s most respected figures. The New York Times called him “a de facto ambassador for the technology industry at large."


Technological advancement is a powerful thing. It can also be a scary one. In Tools and Weapons by Brad Smith and Carol Ann Brown, significant events in tech are analyzed, and lessons are shared: revealing that the relationship between user data and who can see it is actually a bit more complex than it may seem... especially when the government gets involved. This book covers: why customer approval is not always the deciding factor in whether or not their data will be accessed, the event which illustrates why the government shouldn’t use their powers to gain access to citizen’s personal data, and how tech companies need to be protected. Discover why each country needs to be treated differently when it comes to access to its citizen’s data. Learn about how AI is not necessarily something to fear: but it can reflect the biases of its engineers. This book also addresses a difficult question about who exactly is responsible for protecting individual’s private data after it is gathered by technological companies: if that responsibility lies with the government or the company who collects the information (hint: it's both).

Stillness Is the Key

Stillness Is the Key By. Ryan Holiday

Key Insights

When was the last time you took a mindful pause to be still and reflective?

How often do you ignore the notifications popping up on your phone?

In this busy world full of technology and hustle and bustle, you probably don’t get to take a breather too often.

But, did you know that being still is actually a top-secret weapon according to some of the greatest leaders the world has ever known?

According to Ryan Holiday in his book, “Stillness Is the Key,” taking a moment to breathe can help induce creativity and bring great clarity to your life.

These pauses soaked with inactivity can actually propel your life forward and alter your perspective.

“Stillness is what aims the archer’s arrow. It inspires new ideas. It sharpens perspective and illuminates connections.”- Ryan Holiday

The trick is learning how to sit still while the world continues on around you.

Key Points

  • Stillness Is the Key To Peace

We live in a world full of noise. There are constant conversations wherever we go, there is social media begging us to scroll through, traffic honking, and on top of that, we have our own schedules to adhere to which include family duties, social obligations, and of course, work. Life in the modern day is busy.

This busyness causes stress in our lives because we feel at high-demand 24/7. Everyone is trying to get our attention in one way or another. So, how do we clear our heads in order to make decisions efficiently?

According to Holiday, the best way to find clarity and peace is to be still.

But, what exactly is Stillness?

It’s an abstract idea, but you are sure to know it when you practice it.

Stillness can come in different forms. Perhaps you have felt it by being present and watching the sunrise. Or, maybe you have felt it while performing onstage. Or, while running a marathon. It is the simple, yet exuberant, feeling of being alive.

By muting both the chaos that is affecting you externally such as phonecalls and group texts and internally such as worries about a deadline, you will be able to tap into a greater knowledge that’s hiding inside yourself.

“How different would the world look if people spent as much time listening to their conscience as they did to chattering broadcasts? If they could respond to the calls of their convictions as quickly as we answer the dings and rings of technology in our pockets?”- Ryan Holiday

If you can find peace inside yourself, you will still be able to function to the best of your ability, even if your external world is crumbling around you.

A lot of religions have embraced Stillness. Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians all practice Stillness under different names. But, the universal message is the same: Stillness brings peace and clarity to one’s life.

  • Slow Things Down

Sometimes it is best to slow things down and resist listening to our gut instincts. Especially in high-stake situations. That’s because our gut jumps at a fight-or-flight decision rather quickly when things get heated.

For example, President John F. Kennedy woke up to the news in October of 1962 that a Soviet Union nuclear missile site was being constructed in Cuba, approximately 100 miles from the American coast.

Knowing this was a threat to the American people, JFK was urged to take aggressive action. But, JFK knew that if he was to become aggressive a nuclear war could commence.

The thirteen days that followed that October day is known as the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Now, how do you think JFK navigated this intense time?

Well, first, he slowed things way down. He knew he needed a clear head to make a clear decision. He succumbed to a sort of meditative process where he wrote “missile” over and over on pages of paper, as well as the word “leaders.”

“This is, in fact, the first obligation of a leader and a decision-maker. Our job is not to “go with our gut” or fixate on the first impression we form about an issue. No, we need to be strong enough to resist thinking that is too neat, too plausible, and therefore almost always wrong. Because if the leader can’t take the time to develop a clear sense of the bigger picture, who will? If the leader isn’t thinking through all the way to the end, who is?”- Ryan Holiday

After doing that, JFK gave himself the time to go for a swim in the White House pool and took a walk in the rose garden. He took the time to unplug in order to come to a decision about what to do.

He settled on a blockade of Cuba, which of course, didn’t solve the problem, but it saved America from danger.

  • Be Present

It’s important to be present and limit when you are inputting into your life.

Throughout our day, we are usually trying to get out of the present moment, rather than sitting back and enjoying it. We want to rush through work to get home, rush through dinner to put the kids to bed, and rush to bed to wake up early for the next day. And, then where does our life go? How much time have we wasted not being present and enjoying our little moments?

We struggle to be present because we are constantly being hit over the head by information. We feel the pressure to stay on top of the information by scrolling social media, reading emails as they come in, and catching up on the latest trending news.

However, we should be taking advice from Napoleon, who used to wait three weeks before opening any letter he received. Napoleon did this because he found that these time-sensitive drastic issues usually sorted themselves out between the time he received the letter and the time he actually opened it.

Napoleon was great at selecting his “inputs.” Meaning, he was selective of what received his attention in life.

Some simple ways to do this in modern-day is to use the do not disturb setting on your phone, block unwanted emails, and unfriend toxic people.

By blocking out unnecessary “noise”, it’ll be easier for you to find stillness in your life.

  • Reflective Journaling

Journaling is a great way to get your thoughts on paper to help you hash out your thoughts and create clarity in your life.

Anne Frank is a historical example of how journaling can be not only therapeutic but useful. It helped her to see herself from an outsider’s perspective. She found it to be a way of reviewing her behavior and believed everyone should do it.

“This is what the best journals look like. They aren’t for the reader. They are for the writer. To slow the mind down. To wage peace with oneself.”- Ryan Holiday

Journaling has been proven to help restore well-being after disastrous or traumatic events. It is a way to super-focus on yourself and ignore the distractions of the outside world.

When you sit down at night to journal, focus on things that confused you throughout the day such as, why you were in a particular mood. By journaling, you may be able to see where it stemmed from.

Make journaling consistent and it will turn into the most important time of your day.

  • Cultivate Silence

Surround yourself with silence. By surrounding yourself will silence, only then will you be able to truly hear.

Silence is full of richness. So, instead of listening to music on your commute or TV in the background, learn to turn off the devices and sit in silence.

Silence, however, according to music composer John Cage, does not exist. In one of his famous compositions, entitled, 4’33, he incorporated 4 minutes and 33 seconds worth of silence. But, during that silence, there were sounds such as rain pattering on the windows and people shifting in the audience. However, if Cage did not incorporate the silence onstage, then all of those sounds would have been lost and unheard.

By welcoming silence into the room, Cage was able to hear what was going on.

When our lives get too loud, finding quiet can helps us to refocus and find peace. A good way to do this is to find quiet places to spend time, such as the woods or a private garden.

By quieting the noise around us, we are able to be more aware and in touch with the world, we live in. And, it also helps us to find answers.

  • Peaceful Souls & Minds

We cannot be truly and genuinely happy if we do not possess both a peaceful soul and mind.

A great example of this is in June 2008, when Tiger Woods won the US Gold Championship for the third time. He did it with only one good leg, as the other was broken in two places!

It was a peak in his career, but shortly after, word got out about a secret life he was living. And, his scandal was leaked all over major news stations and was featured in every newspaper.

Woods was famous for his Stillness on the course. He had past trauma that helped to create his incredible golf game, however, it also made him suffer mentally and emotionally.

Through Woods’ downfall in the media, he realized that if you are lying all the time and living a secret life, your soul will become unhappy, and ultimately you will be unhappy. He realized he had been damaging himself.

His reflection on and off the golf course made for his success in life and in the game.

Our happiness and our satisfaction with life are only found when we start serving our soul with Stillness.

  • Conquer Desire

As humans, we are often driven by desire. This can come in different forms such as sexual desire or the desire for a raise at work.

But, if we learn to conquer desire and then be content with what we have, we will live much happier lives.

We need to learn to control our drive or else we will never be content in our lives. We will always want more.

A good question to ask yourself when you feel a desire tugging at you is, “how will I feel after I get it?” if your answer is “the same,” then it will turn into a life-long chase.

Asking yourself this question will help you to focus on the bigger picture. Every aspect of what you desire. For example, if you crave another drink, think of the hangover that will proceed it.

It is important to realize when you have enough and be content with the fact that enough is enough. You do not need any extra.

  • Bathe in Beauty

Surrounding yourself in beautiful scenery can help to calm your thoughts.

A lot of time this beauty is found in nature. A beautiful oak tree to sit under or a pond in a quiet wooded area. The peace that nature gives to us is unmatched.

In Japan, there is something which translates to “forest bathing”, in which natural spiritual therapy heals your soul. Forest bathing is basically taking time for yourself in nature to cure what’s ailing you or to simply adhere to routine self-care.

Of course, forest bathing is not easy for everyone, especially if they live in a crowded city.

The important thing is to find the beauty that is around you. It doesn’t have to be a forest, it could be the cracks in a sidewalk. Take the time to notice the tiny beautiful things, and you will start to feel more at peace.

  • Physical Activity

Physical activity is essential for someone who wants to practice Stillness. A good way to incorporate that into your life is to find a hobby.

This hobby doesn’t need to be ultra-physical, like running or rock-climbing. It could be something as simple as doodling on a piece of paper, baking, or stretching on a yoga mat. For example, Winston Churchill’s meditative physical activity of choice was bricklaying. He said it helped to heal his depression and escape problems. It also was a good way to exercise his body.

Besides Churchill, a lot of great leaders had hobbies, such as UK Prime Minister William Gladstone, who cut down trees and John Cage who hunted mushrooms in the woods.

To help you reach your ultimate Stillness, find a way to exercise in your life. Moving your body will help you to meditate and find peace.

  • Embrace Sleep

If you embrace sleep and moderation, you will feel content and at peace.

It’s important to know your limits. For example, if you are working on a project, but are mentally exhausted, it is more productive to get some sleep and go back to it in the morning than to keep pushing on and continue hurting yourself mentally.

In this day in age, so many of us are trying to do way too much. We say ‘yes’ to social obligations and extra responsibilities even if we don’t have the time to spare.

That is why it is important to stop saying ‘yes’ and know your limits. Be present and embrace the idea of moderation. You need to protect your body, your mind, and your soul in order to fully embrace Stillness and create your own happiness.

“Stillness is the key to, well, just about everything.”- Ryan Holiday

The Main Take-Away:

Everyone can benefit from Stillness. It allows you to make decisions in difficult situations and it also helps to combat stress, change your perspective, and find inner peace.

Fair Play: A Game-Changing Solution for When You Have Too Much to Do (and More Life to Live)

Fair Play By. Eve Rodsky

Key Insights

When kids come into the picture, marriages can quickly change.

Many mothers end up doing more than their fair share. Not only are mothers often stuck with half the chores and their entire careers, but they are left to tend to their child’s every need.

In Eve Rodsky’s book, “Fair Play”, she explains how this is all too common in marriages. And, she uses her own experience as an example for her readers.

Rodsky describes the “second shift” that mothers usually pick up when they have kids which includes making lunches, helping with homework, doing extra laundry, etc. While husbands tend to stick to their day jobs, working only one shift.

Mothers also tend to be the emotional caretakers in the relationship, so her duties extend to soothing their children, sending birthday cards, and keeping up with the in-laws.

And, her mental to-do list consists of constant worries about whether or not she washed her son’s football jersey and if there is enough food for dinner.

“I believe in my core that this is the fundamental issue for women, for them to step into their full power in the world, and we have to invite men to step into their full power at home.”- Eve Rodsky

All of these things a woman does is often called “invisible work”. Rodsky explains why this invisible work is underappreciated and why household duties should be 50/50.

Key Points

  • The Second Shift Is Causing Unhappiness

Eve shares her experience living the second shift life as a mother. She would come home only to more work and it left her feeling overwhelmed. The stress of all the new demands was affecting her well-being. It took a toll on every single aspect of her life.

First, it affected her marriage. Mothers who do more housework than their partners oftentimes develop resentment toward their husbands. And because they are hustling solo, they feel isolated and alone. Studies confirm that women who do more housework than their husbands are less satisfied in their marriages.

The second shift also affects a woman’s mental health. It creates mental exhaustion. The Today Show website featured a survey that investigated the stress-level of moms in America. Out of 7,000 moms surveyed, the majority ranked their current stress-levels at 8.5 on a ten-point scale.

And, in correlation to the survey, it has been documented that women are diagnosed with anxiety disorders more often than men; more than twice as frequently! This only makes sense as nearly 80% of American women report that taking care of their families is too time-consuming, so they cannot take care of themselves too.

This second shift also has a negative effect on a mother’s career. The pay gap between mothers with children and without is actually bigger than that of the pay gap between men and women. But, why is that?

It is because the woman with children does not fit the company’s ideal employee, which would be someone who is free to focus on their job. Because women are at high-demand at home, they are often thought to be too scatter-brained for the workplace.

And, for each child a mother has, she has to pay a tax of 5-10%. On top of that, women with children do not get as many salary increases. So, having a child is really an economic risk for a career woman.

  • Value Time Equally in Your Marriage

A woman’s time and a man’s time should be equal. A man’s time is not worth more than a woman’s.

Rodsky tells a story about how her husband called her when he got home to tell her that someone had left garbage in the garden. Instead of disposing of it himself, he waited for her to get home to deal with it. Rodsky believes this was done because he thought his time could be better well-spent, but it was a good use of her time as a mother.

This is all too common in America. Men’s time is often seen as finite and valuable, while women’s time is seen as infinite.

But, childcare duties and household duties should be split equally between the two people in the marriage in order to ensure a healthy situation.

However, in order to move forward in an equal relationship, there are some myths you must debunk first.

The biggest one is that time is equal to money. This is not true. Men are often the moneymakers of the family. But, just because they are making the money doesn’t mean that their time is worth more. Taking a child to a doctor’s appointment is worth just as much, even if you are not getting paid.

“I believe 50/50 is the wrong equation because it sets us up for not only score-keeping but resentment when it’s not. Every household is different—it has to be fair for you. The good news is that data shows that perceived fairness is a better indicator of a happy marriage, over actual fairness or 50/50. So I just want women to get to a place where they perceive fairness, and that starts with ownership.”- Eve Rodsky

Time should be measured in hours, not dollars. You and your partner have the same number of hours in your day. So, everything should be equal and time should be seen as equally valuable.

  • Mothers Shouldn’t Give Up Who They Are

A lot of women’s identities are completely changed when they start having children. Women who were once passionate about their careers become too busy managing a household to focus on their dreams. These women were simply too exhausted to keep pushing forward when responsibilities were at such high demand.

And, many women feel guilty at the thought of pursuing their passions because they feel like they are putting themselves before their husbands and family.

One reason to keep your identity and keep up your passions is to stay “interesting”. Everyone can share news about their children and pets , but it’s important to have something you are excited to talk about when you’re at social gatherings such as a book you’re writing or a class you’re taking.

“Fair Play is really about setting new habits and about a redefinition of teamwork. So a team is going to work really well together if they start developing good habits early. It’s harder to change them later, and also harder to change them when you’re at a #10 on your resent-o-meter. I find that resentment grows with each child—I see that in my data. For most people, it gets worse after the second child is born, because most women can still manage and handle their career with one child, but when the second child comes, they really expect their husband to step up and oftentimes, that doesn’t happen.” - Eve Rodsky

In interviews Rodsky conducted, she discovered that men were more likely to take on domestic chores if it meant that their wives could continue pursuing their passions.

  • Understand Who Is Doing What

“When you start focusing on ownership the way we do with business, and we treat our home like our most important organization and bring rigor and respect to the home, things change.”- Eve Rodsky

The average American woman does more than their “fair share” of the household responsibilities. And, because of this Rodsky developed a card game to help understand it all.

Here’s how you play:

  1. Create 100 playing cards.
  2. The cards will all fit into 5 categories of domestic life. The first category is Home. For example, laundry, taking out the garbage, doing the dishes, making dinner, and dusting.
  3. Then, there is the Out category which would consist of things like getting the car serviced, grocery shopping, taking kids to and from school, etc.
  4. Then there is the Caregiving category. Examples of this would be toilet training, bedtime stories, bathing your child, etc.
  5. Then there is the Magic category. These are the tasks that bring joy and comfort to the family; examples include, party planning or talking to your child when they are sad.
  6. Then, of course, there is a Wild category. These include huge life events, both planned and unplanned. Good examples of this are the loss of a pet, a car breaking down, or moving to a new house.

After you have created all of your cards, deal them out to the person that usually handles those tasks and see who has more in their hand! This is a surefire way to visually see who is taking on more than their fair share.

  • Understand What Activities Matter To Whom

To continue playing the game, shuffle the cards and deal them out evenly to break up the domestic responsibilities.

No player should grab a card by default. If the wife is usually the one to make dinner, it doesn’t mean she has to be the one responsible for that task.

If there is a task that matters a lot to you, however, then it is safe to take that card. Especially if your partner does not care about the card.

It’s also important to take notice of the cards that you both do not really care about. Why are they there? Are they necessary? If they aren’t then simply remove them from the deck!

  • The Three-Step System

There are three parts to every domestic task:

  1. Conceiving
  2. Planning
  3. Executing

For example, if someone was to make dinner they would have to think of a meal, shop for the ingredients, and then cook it. Otherwise, the person just executing the dinner, or cooking it, would get all the credit.

According to Rodsky, the three parts should never be separated because it can lead to disaster. Taking the dinner example, if a woman sent her husband to the grocery store, instead of going herself, then she may end up with ingredients that go against her original dinner plan.

Main Take-Away

The average American woman does more than her fair share of household responsibilities and it can be damaging to her marriage, her career, and her well-being. But, by dealing out duties equally, you can have a “fair play” marriage.

Permanent Record

Permanent Record by Edward Snowden

Part One

Family Origins

Born in 1983 in North Carolina, he came from a patriotic family with a strong military background. His grandfather served in the F.B.I., his father was an engineer in the coast guard, and his mother was an administrator in the NSA. He showed early tendencies of both patriotism and questioning authority.

Early Interest in “Hacking”

At an early age, Snowden expressed a knack for hacking, which he describes as exploiting any system’s weaknesses to your own advantage, and not just skill in computers. For instance, on his sixth birthday, he didn’t want to go to bed at the time his parents said, so he got around his bedtime instructions by turning all the clocks in the house back a few hours. And in school, he figured out how to maintain a B average without doing homework, all so he could spend more time with computers. It became one of Snowden’s favorite hobbies to exploit weaknesses in the rules that adults placed on him, or use their own logic against them.

Early Talent with Computer Programming

Snowden was in love with the internet of the 1990s and developed a rare talent for computers. At one point, in high school, he discovered a security flaw in the Los Alamos National Laboratory website. He called the lab to notify them of this and later received a call from a man thanking him and offering a job when he turns 18.

Diagnosis of Mononucleosis and Dropout of High School

At the beginning of his sophomore year, he found himself unusually fatigued and was diagnosed with mononucleosis. He missed four months of classes and decided to drop out of high school, acquire his GED, and enroll in community college.

The decision to Serve His Country

After 9/11, he witnesses the frenzied evacuation of NSA headquarters in Fort Meade, and decided he wanted to serve his country. At first, he tried to join the Army special forces, but during training he fractured his ankle, ending his military career just as it began. In the book, Snowden describes his greatest regret of this time as his unquestioning support for the War on Terror and helping to support corrupt government policies.

Decision to Pursue a Career in US Intelligence

While he was recovering from his training injury at home, he realized he could serve his country with his computer skills and decided to go back to school to get a secret clearance and seek tech positions with the NSA or CIA.

First Love and First Job at NSA

At the age of 22, while taking classes at the University of Maryland, he met the love of his life on the internet, on a website called HotorNot. Her name was Lindsay Mills and she was a photography student from another part of Maryland. The two started dating. Soon after, Snowden acquired his security clearance and started working as a security guard at the NSA.

Part Two

First Contracting Job

Snowden wanted to serve his country in a better way, so he went to government job fairs, where tech companies recruit talent for government jobs in their name. Through a company called COMSO, Snowden landed his first contracting job as a systems administrator at CIA headquarters in Virginia. He spent several months managing the agency’s private servers.

Effect of 9/11 on Snowden’s Rise in Intelligence

Because of 9/11, the CIA and NSA were in need of computer talent, and this allowed Snowden to rise in the Intelligence community without a college degree.

Snowden’s Experience in the CIA

He decided he wanted to see more of the world, so he enrolled in a six-month program to become a CIA Information Security Officer, a position employed at every US embassy around the world. During his training for this position, he made the mistake of questioning authority. The living conditions in the rundown motel were unpleasant for students. Snowden wrote directly to the Field Director to complain. To Snowden’s surprise, it worked, and soon after the class was moved to a new training facility. But on the last day of class, Snowden was told that by communicating with the Field director directly, he had disobeyed the chain of command. As punishment, he was denied his preference of working in the middle east and was instead sent to Geneva, Switzerland, where he was responsible for maintaining computer-network security. He worked in Geneva from 2007 to 2009 and then resigned from the CIA.

First Discovery of Potential Violations of US Public Privacy

Shortly after his resignation from the CIA, he took a job as a contractor for the NSA in Japan. He worked at the NSA's Pacific Technical Center, at Yokota Air Base, where his job was to help connect the NSA's systems architecture with the CIA's.

In 2009, he was asked last-minute to attend a conference in Hong Kong, after a colleague had dropped out, to give a presentation on China’s surveillance of private communications. In a matter of hours, he had to read up on the technology China used to monitor its citizen’s online activity, emails, and phone calls. He thought, if China was spying on its citizens, why wouldn’t the US do the same? It was then that he discovered what he had helped to create.

Investigating Privacy Concerns

At this time he fully supported defensive and targeted surveillance, but he decided to look into it for himself. He knew from whistleblowers that the US government sometimes overstepped its bounds, such as the recent public release of the President’s Surveillance Program (PSP), which allowed intelligence agencies to wiretap phone calls without a warrant. He decided to search the NSA for the classified version, but it was nowhere to be found.

The Confirmation of Privacy Violations

Later, a document landed on his desk detailing a program called STELLARWIND, which enabled the government to spy on anyone as they pleased, or more specifically, aimed for the bulk collection of anyone and everyone’s phone and online browsing history. The system collected people’s conversations, including when, where, and with whom they had taken place.

Dealing with the Burden of Secrecy

Snowden recalls trying to rationalize the discovery. He moved to Maryland in 2011, to work for the CIA, but this time tried to have a more normal job in sales and tried to distract himself with his disturbing secret. He became depressed and began expressing his concerns to his girlfriend, Lindsay. Also, he began experiencing intense dizziness and epileptic seizures. Following a series of seizures, he took some short-term disability leave from work. During this time, while staying with his mother, he reflected on the context of his work and influence on privacy violations as the 2011 Arab Spring erupted.

Part Three

Return to Work

In March 2012, he moved to Oahu, Hawaii, to work in a place called “The Tunnel”, a former aircraft factory turned NSA facility.

"Deep in a tunnel under a pineapple field, I sat at a terminal from which I had practically unlimited access to the communications of nearly every man, woman and child on earth who'd ever dialed a phone or touched a computer." - Snowden

The US Constitution and the Fourth Amendment

Upon reading the US Constitution, Snowden was shaken to see how clearly the Fourth Amendment stated citizen’s rights to privacy. As a joke, he started leaving copies of the constitution on coworker’s desks. He became convinced that NSA surveillance wasn’t making people safer as much as creating risk and violating people’s freedoms. He decided to take action. At first, he wanted to learn everything about the NSA’s surveillance program, but soon he decided that the American people had a right to know.

"I was resolved to bring to light a single, all-encompassing fact: that my government had developed and deployed a global system of mass surveillance without the knowledge or consent of its citizenry," - Snowden

Searching the NSA for Data on Privacy Violations

He used his talent for hacking to gather information without compromising other intelligence operations. He even wrote a program to help him browse the NSA, called “Heartbeat”, which compiled all new and important reports into a single newsfeed.

Gathering the Documents for Public Release

He knew that any move he made on the network would be monitored by the agency, so he downloaded files onto some unused computers that weren’t being monitored, making it look like he was doing something technically important, calling it “compatibility testing”. On these unused computers, he could safely search and organize the documents for release without being monitored. To get the files out of the building he downloaded them onto SD cards and hid them in Rubik's cubes that he started carrying around. The security guards began calling him “Rubik’s cube guy”.

Finding Trustworthy Journalists

It was important to him that such information is provided to US journalists who could be trusted. After an extensive search, he decided on two reporters who had already dealt with concerns of government violations: Glen Greenwald and Laura Poitras. To stay anonymous, he communicated with them under the aliases "Cincinnatus", "Citizenfour" and "Verax", sending messages over WiFi while driving his car around, using local Wi-Fi networks.

Getting More Data on Privacy Violations

Snowden had also heard of fellow employees using a search engine called XKEYSCORE, which searched the data collected on STELLARWIND. XKEYSCORE allowed agents to look up anyone’s online history with merely a name or IP address. He decided he wanted to learn more about XKEYSCORE, so in 2013 he requested a transfer to become an "infrastructure analyst" at the National Threat Operations Center in Honolulu. There he was trained to use the system, and he secretly gathered data to inform the public.

The Escape

Snowden knew the NSA would trace everything back to him once the information was released to the public, because too few people had access to such information. So on March 2013, Snowden swiftly began preparing to leave the country. He emptied his bank accounts and erased his old computers. He researched his safest destination, deciding on Hong Kong.

He couldn’t tell anyone he knew, and while his girlfriend Lindsay was gone camping, he took an emergency medical leave of absence from work, citing epilepsy, and then paid cash to fly to Tokyo and then to Hong Kong.

Meeting the Journalists

While in Hong Kong, he met with Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras. In Snowden's hotel room, Greewald interviewed Snowden for the Guardian, and Laura filmed what would become her documentary CitizenFour.

Public Release

On June 6th, 2013, Greenwald’s first story about the NSA’s surveillance program first appeared in the Guardian. Snowden then outed himself as a whistleblower to beat the US government to it. On June 14th, the U.S. government charged Snowden under the Espionage Act, and on June 21st, Snowden's 30th birthday, the US government formally requested his extradition. Snowden immediately began seeking political asylum.

Seeking Political Asylum

US Wikileaks editor Sean Harrison organized for Snowden to have political asylum in Ecuador, just as Julian Assange was before. To avoid US airspace, Snowden would have to fly to Moscow, then to Havana, then to Caracas, then to Quito, Ecuador. But when they arrived in Moscow, they were stopped by Russian Authorities. The Russians asked Snowden to work for them, but Snowden rejected the offer and said he had no intention to stay in Russia. The Russians informed Snowden that his passport had been revoked by the US State Department. Snowden was trapped in Russia.

Stuck in Russia

While detained in Sheremetyevo Airport for forty days, surrounded by reporters, Snowden applied to twenty-seven countries for political asylum, but none offered. On August 1st, the Russian government granted Snowden temporary asylum. He’s been in Russia ever since.

Final Points

At the end of the book, Snowden reflects on his decision and experience, including and his hopes for the future of technology and privacy, as well as adjusting to life in Russia. His girlfriend Lindsay Mills went to live with him in Moscow and the two were married in 2017.

About the author

Edward Snowden is an American whistleblower. As a CIA employee and subcontractor, he leaked classified information about the NSA. He exposed several global surveillance programs run by the NSA and the Five Eyes Intelligence Alliance, who worked with telecommunication companies and European governments to infringe on the privacy of Americans. His action prompted an international discussion about privacy and national security.

Snowden was hired by the NSA after working for Dell and the CIA. He raised his concerns internally but was ignored. He leaked classified documents to journalists Glenn Greenwalk, Laura Poitras, and Ewen Masskill. His story appeared on The Guardian, The Washington Post and The New York Times. On June 21, 2013, after Snowden flew to Hong Kong, the United States Department of Justice charged Snowden with two counts of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 and theft of government property. He then arrived in Moscow two days later. Russia provided Snowden with the right of asylum with an initial visa for residence for one year. He has been able to stay in Russia at least until 2020. In 2017, he married his girlfriend, Lindsay, and lives in Moscow. His memoir Permanent Record was published in September of 2019. The US Department of Justice sued him over the publication of his memoir, alleging breach of non-disclosure agreements.

The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World

The Moment of Lift By. Melinda Gates

Key Insights

Throughout recent years, the subject of gender equality has become center-stage.

With movements such as #MeToo, issues that women have been facing for centuries all over the globe are finally coming to light.

However, this light is being shed on the more developed countries of the world, rather than the less developed countries where women may not have any rights at all.

“If you want to lift up humanity, empower women. It is the most comprehensive, pervasive, high-leverage investment you can make in human beings.”- Melinda Gates

In the book, “The Moment of Lift” by Melinda Gates, you will learn about the journey the author and philanthropist experienced leading her charitable foundation. Plus, the insight she gained about the lengths we have to go to have true gender equality around the world.

Key Points

  • Access To Family Planning

Melinda Gates founded the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation in 2000. This foundation was established as a way to give wider access to healthcare around the world, especially in places of great poverty.

One of the big missions this foundation had was giving free vaccines to children in developing countries.

During one of her visits to Malawi, Africa, Melinda talked with women who had traveled long distances with their children in order to get them vaccinated.

Many times during these conversations, the women would bring up the subject of female contraceptives. These poverty-stricken families felt there was no hope for the future because they had no way to provide for their children. And, having more children only made household financial issues worse.

“Shaming women for their sexuality is a standard tactic for drowning out the voices of women who want to decide whether and when to have children.”- Melinda Gates

To give some background on the availability of family planning methods, in 2012, 260 million women in the world’s poorest countries were using forms of birth control. However, there were still 200 million women in those countries that wanted to utilize this form of family planning but weren’t able to because they didn’t have access to it.

It’s easy to understand the benefits of being able to use birth control methods. In the 1970s a study that was performed in Bangladeshi gave half of the women in a village birth control while denying the other half. Twenty years later, they revisited their families. The women with birth control were healthier, compared with the ones who didn’t have access to it. Their children were healthier too and more likely to attend school to get an education.

Women who are able to choose whether or not they want to carry a child can plan their family life, careers, and education better than those who don’t have a choice.

For very poor families, access to birth control can help future generations become more prosperous, rather than staying in a cycle of poverty generation after generation.

The role of birth control now is to help empower women and their families around the world. Even in the U.S., this is true. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) allows all women access to free forms of birth control. This simple act has made it so unintended pregnancy is at its lowest.

However, the current administration is trying to undo all this good the ACA has done by taking away free contraceptives and reverting back to teaching abstinence-only sex education.

  • How Poverty and Reproductive Health Correlate

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation cut the number of childhood deaths caused by the lack of vaccinations by 50%.

But, there is more work to be done. Three million newborn babies die every single year because they live in remote areas with no healthcare.

That’s why in 2003, Melinda and her husband decided to start a partnership with an Indian team to train community health workers. The people trained were sent to poverty-stricken destinations in order to aide the communities in need.

“Poverty is not being able to protect your family. Poverty is not being able to save your children when mothers with more money could. And because the strongest instinct of a mother is to protect her children, poverty is the most disempowering force on earth.”- Melinda Gates

In 2010, Melinda visited Shivgarh, where 300,000 newborn deaths occur annually. She met a young boy who was saved by one of the trained healthcare workers. When the baby boy had turned blue, the healthcare worker held him to her chest to keep him warm after his aunt had refused, believing he had an evil spirit inside of him. That human connection from the worker saved his life.

The news about the boy being saved spread through the village and women began to learn how they could change their behaviors during childbirth in order to prevent the death of their babies.

“Their cup is not empty; you can’t just pour your ideas into it. Their cup is already full, so you have to understand what is in their cup.” If you don’t understand the meaning and beliefs behind a community’s practices, you won’t present your idea in the context of their values and concerns, and people won’t hear you.”- Melinda Gates

This story shows that it’s vital to understand the traditions and taboos of the impoverished countries in order to help them and educate them on health.

  • Increasing Women’s Access to Education

A foundation colleague named Gary was educating families in Kanpur, India about contraceptives. A young girl in the crowd asked if they could also give her a teacher. This small question led to a big realization: if girls were not being educated, the poverty cycle would be never-ending.

Educating girls is vital to women’s empowerment. Education leads to higher wages for families and higher literacy. It also assists in family planning because women who are educated are more informed about birth control, sex, vaccinations, healthcare, and family planning. Also, education is a cycle, much like poverty. Meaning, if a mother attends school, her children will most likely attend too.

Today, more than 130 million girls do not attend school. One of the big reasons for this is because many children have to work to help feed their families.

Mexico actually created a program, which translates to “Opportunities”, that pays families the wages their child would get if they worked so that instead, they can send their child to school.

  • Women and Unpaid Work

Women often do much more unpaid work than men. This unpaid work includes cooking, cleaning, and childcare.

In India, women do an average of six hours of unpaid work daily. And, even in the U.S., women do an average of four.

When women decrease their hours of unpaid work, their opportunity for paid work rises, simply because of available time!

If we confront this issue of women working for no pay, we can get them more paid work, which will help advance their careers and empower them.

Diane Elison, an economist came up with a strategy to tackle this issue. It has three main bullets: recognize, reduce and redistribute.


  1. Recognize - Governments need to recognize the unpaid work being done and include it in labor statistics.
  2. Reduce - We must also reduce the amount of unpaid work by incorporating better technology such as dishwashers, telephones, and washing machines.
  3. Redistribute - The household duties should be split between both men and women.


Even in the U.S., men and women do not share household duties equally. Many women end up doing more than their share.

  • Child Marriages Are Holding Women Back

Throughout her travels, Melinda discovered that child brides were the least likely group of females to use contraceptives. Along with that, she found out that the biggest cause of death for girls 15-19 years old was childbirth.

Child brides are more common than you may think. In 2012, 14 million child brides were married off to their suitors.

The organization, the Girls Not Brides, founded by Dutch Princess Mabel van Oranje, has a goal to stop child bride marriages by getting rid of the incentives that cause it.

The biggest force behind child marriages is poverty. Fathers oftentimes sell their daughters for money, which also leaves the family with one less child to feed.

Young girls are oftentimes sent to villages far from their families where they don’t know anyone. They are then expected to perform all household duties including cooking and cleaning.

When Melinda learned about the horrors of child marriages, she teamed up with the organization, Tostan, which works to change the communities of these impoverished people from the inside.

By being educated, the villagers began to understand the negative effects of child marriages. Tostan has been a successful organization that has helped to put child marriages to an end in 8,500 villages.

  • Women and Agriculture

In underdeveloped countries, people don’t stop at the local market for their food, they grow it. And, many grow for profit too.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has worked to widen access to quality seeds and held workshops to teach better farming skills and techniques. This is all in an attempt to help reduce malnutrition.

In 2015, Melinda met a woman in Malawi who had to rent a plot of land in order to farm to feed her children and send them to school. That is because, in their country, women can’t own land. Also, the men are in charge of whether or not women get the farming equipment needed to farm efficiently.

The woman and her husband decided to take part in CARE Pathways, an organization that teaches better farming techniques. It also touches on the importance of gender equality in the world of agriculture.

The seeds the family was provided with quadrupled their crops. And, she was able to share her seeds with the other women in the community. Plus, her husband began to understand the need for better equipment.

If more women had better seeds and farming equipment, the results could get 150 million people out of food poverty.

  • Diverse Workplaces Lead to United Societies

Melinda Gates spent most of her career working at Microsoft. So, it’s only natural that she has spent a lot of time trying to fix gender inequality in the world of tech.

Microsoft has always valued diversity. But, tech is a male-dominated field. So, naturally, there are a lot of companies that don’t have the same diverse culture. This is discouraging since tech plays a huge role in the future. If there are mostly men in the field, then the future is in their hands.

“Being a feminist means believing that every woman should be able to use her voice and pursue her potential and that women and men should all work together to take down the barriers and end the biases that still hold women back.”- Melinda Gates

Tech used to be seen as a secretary’s work, which was women’s work. Nowadays, it is seen as a serious male profession.

Today, only 2% of venture capitalist investors are women. And, only 2% of venture capital is invested in start-ups that are founded by females. This drove Melinda to start investing in women-founded venture capital funds.

Aspect Ventures is one Melinda decided to start investing in. It is a venture capital fund that invests in organizations founded by both women and people of color.

Melinda doesn’t invest simply to help the ‘little guy’ out. She does it because she knows that women and people of color have different experiences than the average white man and she believes they have something to give to society.

Diversity is vital to any workplace or society. It helps diminish biases and creates successful solutions to important issues.

The Main Take-Away

The Bill & Melinda Foundation was not started to empower women, but they realized throughout their journey that empowering women was vital to providing better healthcare and reducing poverty.