Just as with the lockdown of Boston in search of the Marathon Bombers, the revelations of the NSA’s surveillance activities and the consequent actions of Edward Snowden and the US government are absolutely essential in terms of defining the future relationship of privacy, security and freedom of speech, press and the private citizen. This will quickly define how the government responds to rebellion–though how far flung this will extend remains to be seen (and largely depends on how the public responds).
The Guardian broke most of the stories, directly from Edward Snowden, including a live chat with him drawn from various social media streams.
The next day came the revelation (originally by the Washington Post) that an NSA program named PRISM was in place to facilitate the transfer of certain data held on the servers of big tech companies to the hands of analysts. Google and Facebook, among others, initially denied cooperation–but subsequent press releases showed that FISA gag orders played a significant role (and that most of the denials were semantics). The program is a tool for analyzing data, rather than one for collecting it.
Congress held a hearing on the NSA’s activities, shedding light on some of the infrastructure and chain of command inside Ft. Meade. Some of the information seems contradictory, and some of it is predictably opaque. However, just because someone isn’t authorized apparently doesn’t NECESSARILY mean they don’t have access. Or that they couldn’t obtain access.
Since the PRISM break, Google has since began to incrementally challenge the gag order that goes along with FISA requests—a march towards transparency, perhaps because they know that with the massive amount they have riding on collecting customer data, they need to appease the public outcry. As a direct result, more information on encryption and data security have entered the mainstream press—which is always a good thing.
Yesterday, the Guardian revealed that the British equivalent of the NSA, the GCHQ, has been engaging in a meta-data collecting program of equal or greater invasiveness than the US. In addition, Snowden revealed to the South China Morning Post details of the NSA’s operations against Chinese information structures. Almost subsequently, the US charged Edward Snowden as a spy, and has asserted public pressure on Hong Kong to extradite him immediately back to the US. Many believe Snowden will try to seek asylum in Iceland.
Critiques have appeared of both the quality of and assertions contained within the initial reporting, pegging them as subpar and unethical. In addition, the writer of THE WIRE released a well-read critique of the recent “revelations,” assailing what he indicts as the faux outrage of the American people.
How many terror attacks has the massive surveillance actually prevented? The details are incredibly (and inherently) unclear. Regardless, we will be asked (certainly in the next election cycle) to make big decisions about what we want our politicians to crusade for—and where to draw the line with respect to security and privacy. The best thing you can do is be informed.
Cross-posted at The Winning Strategies.
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