A new leak from Edward Snowden proves that NSA surveillance captures people’s private lives. Snowden continues his self-appointed role as the people’s protector by revealing to reporters a fuller picture of the scope of the NSA’s surveillance of Americans. The U.S. government has collected and retained millions of baby photos, love notes and other personal data. Forget the cloud; perhaps victims of a crashed hard drive can apply to the NSA to retrieve the digital bits and pieces of their lives – or to Edward Snowden, who seems to have a copy of huge quantities of data; or to the Chinese or Russian governments who, some fear, may demand access to it in trade for not sending Snowden right back to the U.S.
Some people see Snowden as a whistleblower and a champion for people’s rights against what may be becoming a tyrannical government. Other people see Snowden as a traitor who delved more deeply into NSA files than he should have only to flee the country with two computers loaded with sensitive material. However, the new revelations by the Washington Post seem to prove that the NSA’s surveillance goes farther and deeper into the lives of American citizens than previously admitted by the government. The NSA is liberally applying Section 702 of the FIFSA amendments to cast a wide net when looking for foreign threats. Many ordinary Americans are caught in those nets and their private information is collected. Trained analysts then comb through it. If, as is happening, the government uncovers terrorist plots and overseas computer hackers, the program is working; but what causes concern is the filing away of trivial data for future use. Why, after analysis, is it not discarded? It is understandable that some citizens will get swept up in an investigation, but what future use of private correspondence can the government be expecting?
According to reporters at the Washington Post, who spent four months investigating Snowden’s most recent leak of NSA files, nine out of 10 people tracked by the NSA were ordinary internet users whose information has no relevance to any security threat. However, their information was permanently stored by the NSA. The agency uses two main programs, PRISM and Upstream, to collect data from internet companies such as Facebook, Google, Yahoo and Microsoft, as well as data moving through the U.S. Anything put online can end up in the NSA database. A new Snowden leak proves that NSA surveillance captures people’s private lives, and that should be a concern to all citizens.
Why should people care about the retention of their information? After all, some feel that the government is generally trustworthy enough to keep the information protected and secret – at least until another Snowden comes along to steal it and leak it to the world. People should care because it shines a spotlight on the right to personal privacy, or the lack thereof. Out of the first 10 amendments to the Constitution; the Bill of Rights, the Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth guarantee protection against the government. Democracy was a reaction against a king who had too much power to interfere in the lives of the people. The Anti-Federalists insisted on written limitations to the federal government’s power over the people. Now it seems that vigilance is required to maintain some of those rights, especially the Fourth Amdement: “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures.” The fear is that data collected today may be used against one tomorrow.
The most disturbing aspect of the Washington Post’s investigation, for some, is not the breadth of the NSA’s surveillance or the unprecedented storage of private information, it is the government’s repeated denials and back-tracking about the program. Government officials had previously insisted that Snowden did not have access to the “raw” intercepts of information because it was kept highly secure and masked citizen’s identifiers. Some say that either Snowden gained access unethically or the data was more available than the government believed. In any case, Snowden has shown once again that the NSA has vastly more information on average Americans than it does on its international targets.
Americans expect transparency and honesty from their government. Some feel that the only reason Snowden can be described as a whistleblower instead of a traitor is that every subsequent leak reveals further governmental cover-ups. Americans understand that in a post 9/11 world they are balancing privacy with security; however, they need to question how much information needs to be collected to stop threats to safety and how much is an invasion of privacy. The people need to be informed about government practices so that they can make those decisions collectively. In the meantime, Snowden’s new leak proves that NSA surveillance captures much more of people’s private lives than the government cares to admit.
Opinion By: Rebecca Savastio