By Piper Bayard
Sure, I could be writing about my debut dystopian thriller, FIRELANDS, which was released last week by Stonehouse Ink. In fact, I planned to do that very thing. And while I certainly hope you’ll decide to check it out, there is something even more important happening that we need to discuss.
Last week, former National Security Agency (“NSA”) intelligence analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden came forward and released training slides used to train operatives at the NSA in a surveillance program called PRISM. PRISM allows the NSA to collect data directly from the servers of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL, and Apple and search for any information on anyone at all. It was begun under a previous administration for the purpose of collecting information on foreign terrorists. It was greatly expanded by President Obama to include data collection on all Americans. These are two of the slides.
Some of these companies cooperated without protest. Others required warrants issued under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (“FISA”). However, FISA does not grant authority to collect data on Americans or others within US borders, something which PRISM does. All of these companies are denying knowledge and participation at this point.
Not only does the NSA directly access these companies’ servers, which serve primarily Americans, they are sharing PRISM’s power of unbridled access into our internet usage with the UK government. That’s right. The GCHQ – that’s the UK’s NSA equivalent – has the same access to all of our information that our own Obama administration is enjoying.
As for President Obama, he and his administration are, of course, downplaying the whole PRISM-gate and denying that PRISM was ever used to collect data on Americans or on people living in the US. At the same time, he says this is a “modest encroachment” on privacy that is a worthy trade off for preventing terrorism. (Attorneys will recognize this as “arguing in the alternative.”) Groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union disagree with the inconsequential nature of these violations and are considering the legal options on behalf of the American people and others living within US borders.
As a recovering attorney, I could give you my take on the constitutionality and legal implications of this surveillance program. As a senior intelligence operative, Holmes could certainly enlighten us were he at liberty to do so. However, former intelligence analyst and whistleblower Edward Snowden says it best in his own words. Please take a few minutes to listen to this interview with him about PRISM, why he gave up the good life he led in Hawaii—he can never go home again—and what he hopes to accomplish with his revelations.
Programs like PRISM are extremely powerful and can reach into anyone’s email, internet records, and phone records. I am not suggesting that America should not track terrorists, but I see no sign from the Obama administration that any safeguards whatsoever are in place. Instead, the president suggests that we should take it all on good faith that his administration is not targeting Americans. Strong echoes of Richard Nixon’s infamous, “Trust me.”
In all of the stir this has created, we haven’t yet heard the deeper questions. Corporations sponsor and “own” politicians, so who in corporate America gets to benefit from this data collection? Do corporations who buy political figures get to use this technology to spy on their competitors? Do the IRS and other agencies get to use this information collected on us in the name of safety for their own purposes? After all, it’s much easier to target political opponents with such things as IRS scrutiny when their entire communication history is available for review.
Regardless of the answers to these questions, the most important point to remember is this: the American government doesn’t do anything that the American people don’t let it get away with—yet. Where will we draw our line?
1) Here’s the Law the Obama Administration is Using as Legal Justification for Broad Surveillance. Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, June 7, 2013.
2) Obama: No One is Listening to Your Calls. Michael Pearson, CNN Politics, June 9, 2013.
3) Obama Blasts Media ‘Hype’ Over Secret Program, Calling Them ‘Modest Encroachments on Privacy’. Brett LoGiurato, Business Insider, June 7, 2013.
4) Edward Snowden: The Whistleblower Behind the NSA Surveillance Revelations. Glenn Greenwald, Ewen MacAskill, and Lora Poitras, The Guardian, June 9, 2013.
5) NSA PRISM Program Taps in to User Data of Apple, Google, and others. Glenn Greenwald, The Guardian, June 6, 2013.
6) U.S., British Intelligence Mining Data from Nine U.S. Internet Companies in Broad Secret Program. Barton Gellman and Lora Poitras, The Washington Post, June 7, 2013.