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Perhaps you have heard about the ongoing debate regarding privacy versus security. The national conversation was sparked again over the recent uproar regarding a recent leak of classified information from one of the United States Government’s top security agencies. The current national focus on the practices of The National Security Agency’s (NSA), previously undisclosed program known as Operation ‘Prism’, has citizens from every walk of life in every class and sphere paying attention. Former NSA employee, U.S. intelligence contractor Edward Snowden, has revealed that NSA has obtained direct access to Web-based systems such as Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Apple, Skype, YouTube, AOL, and additional US Internet titans.
‘Prism’ permits NSA officials the open-access ability to collect Web-based material that includes personal emails, chats, texts, search histories, file transfers, image sharing, and more. Read the Independent’s Q&A: What is Prism, what does it do, is it legal and what data can it obtain?
Civil Disobedient or Top Level Spy and Felon?
“I can’t in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, Internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they’re secretly building.” - Edward Snowden
Edward Snowden leaked two main messages. Firstly, he declared that the NSA regularly conducts ‘data-mining’ through the records of billions of phone calls made in the US every day. This filtering process sifts through for suspicious key words/terms that raise warning flags, such as messages regarding Yemen or Hamas or other noted phrases. You would be correct in arguing that this is not necessarily ‘new’ news; many who have followed the practices of the government since the instillation of the Patriot Act know that this is already part of the process. In fact 2011 a Pew Research survey showed that only 34 per cent of Americans opposed the Patriot Act. It is the second claim that Snowden made that led to an international brouhaha.
On June 21, It became public knowledge that Edward Snowden had been charged with the “theft of government property, unauthorized communication of national defense information and willful communication of classified intelligence with an unauthorized person”. These allegations fall under the Espionage Act. He claimed that the NSA (along with possible other agencies) have a special relationship with the larger Internet companies such as Microsoft, Apple, Facebook, Google, Yahoo, Skype, YouTube, AOL, and others that allow them to track foreigners suspected of being a threat to national security. (Note: these companies have all fervently denied the existence of any kind of access to their servers.) However since the process is clandestine at best, it is not known how much the public will ever truly know.
The world has watched as Snowden first escaped to Hong Kong seeking asylum. When the U.S. attempted to extradite him, he was able to freely depart China due to a lack of clarification in communication between the two nations. He made it safely into Russia where, according to latest reports, he hopes to achieve ultimate transportation to possibly Cuba, Ecuador, Venezuela, or another unknown nation.
Peeping (NSA) Toms
Start by reading The Telegraph’s Operation Prism: so should we all be scared? to find out details of the recent events leading to the debate today. Continue with the article, Snowden Reveals US Secretive Spying Activities: US Hacking and Cyber Attacks directed against Chinafrom the Centre for Research on Globalization.
This overview of the ‘Prism’ program as described by the released NSA presentation will provide the scope of the program. The National Post provides complete commentary for The Five NSA Slides. Interestingly, these are only 5 of 41 slides…according to sources; the other slides are quite controversial and have not as yet been released.
The New York Times offers this Comparison between Two Secret Surveillance Programs between the 2001 Patriot Act’s sanctioned phone monitoring and the latest 2008 FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) Amendments Act ‘Prism’ program.
President Obama stated in a news conference on June 7, that “It’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 per cent security and also then have 100 per cent privacy and zero inconvenience,” commenting on the layers of oversight and legal supervision required before tapping or snooping actually occurs. He continued, “I think, on balance, we have established a process and a procedure that the American people should feel comfortable about.” Watch the video clip. Both the Republican and Democrat heads of the Senate and House Intelligence Committees fully agreed that the programs are acceptable in range and maintenance. Democrat chairman of the Senate committee, Dianne Feinstein stated, “It’s called protecting America.”
Where in the World is Edward Snowden?
And for as many perceived whistle-blowers that are buzzing all over this latest break in classified security, there are many who would continue to back programs like ‘Prism’. Read Why NSA's PRISM Program Makes Sense from Forbes magazine. Follow up by reading Down the Rabbit Hole: What's Really at Stake With Domestic Surveillance? from the Huffington Post. Finally, this opinion article from Tech News Daily wonders Why the NSA's PRISM Program Shouldn't Surprise You.
As of this past weekend, Edward Snowden was able to successfully depart Hong Kong without being detained as the U.S. had requested. Read this NBC update about how the U.S. [is] disappointed that Hong Kong let NSA leaker Edward Snowden leave. In this video interview posted on USA Today, Snowden knew he would be hunted down. Read the latest news on Snowden’s objectives at Time magazine’s On the Run to Moscow, Edward Snowden Keeps Americans Guessing. Is there still more that he will leak? What will it mean for the ongoing discussion of privacy versus security?