By Adam Weatherall
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Last week former N.S.A contractor Edward Snowden released confidential slides relating to the operation of a program called “Prism”, and with it spiked sales of 1984, apparently America wanted to read up on the “Big Brother” that was watching them so closely. Prism is a broad sweeping information mining data processing program that the Administration says is part of our new national security platform that has been keeping us safer without our knowledge for years now. Typically I tend to agree with Benjamin Franklin when he said in his Farmer’s Almanac “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”. And for recent historical perspective programs introduced by our government intended to keep us safer, like “The Patriot Act” tend to make us all feel a little less free. Prism seems to be another chipping away at the core of what are understood to be our inalienable rights guaranteed to us in the constitution. But is there a nefarious “Big Brother” gathering a file on all of us, and what do those slides Snowden released to the Washington Post and The Guardian mean? Are we all in a Prism Nation?
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For more specific explanation on PRISM, prism is a system the NSA uses to gain access to the private communications of users of nine popular Internet services. We know that access is governed by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was enacted in 2008. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper tacitly admitted PRISM’s existence in a blog post last Thursday. A classified PowerPoint presentation leaked by Edward Snowden states that PRISM enables “collection directly from the servers” of Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook and other online companies. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg called media reports about PRISM “outrageous,” stating that “Facebook is not and has never been part of any program to give the U.S. or any other government direct access to our servers.”
It’s unclear whether even this is a kind of intentionally vague legal verbiage. Opening the door for a program as sweeping as PRISM has been reported to be. The exact nature of the data collection program is still unclear. Initial reports in The Washington Post and The Guardian painted a picture of a Big Brother-esque surveillance apparatus with unfettered access to massive amounts of data. The Director of National Intelligence responded by saying that all data acquired through the program, which targets only terrorist suspects who are not in the U.S., was lawfully obtained but through secret court orders made possible under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act. A New York Times report last week fell somewhere in the middle, describing a “locked mailbox” for the NSA on tech companies’ servers where the government could routinely ask for the data it sought in its investigations. All the companies steadfastly deny any involvement in the program and say the government doesn’t have direct access to their servers.
Google is now asking the White House for permission to publish information about the number of secret national security data requests it receives in its annual transparency report about government demands for user information. Facebook, which has never published a transparency report, is suddenly excited by the idea and also wants to include information on national security data requests. Microsoft and Twitter are also in agreement here to the three companies’ credit. But should we feel shocked that our data is being mined by these specific companies in this way? Frankly when polled most people seem unsurprised by the most recent encroachment by our government’s ever expanding security apparatus. And well expected in a way than far more information is being “mined” than even this latest in the series of leaks revealed. And well they shouldn’t be it was in 2006 that “USA Today” reported on d.o.j Verizon server request, and in 2008 Verizon was even brought to court on behalf a class action lawsuit regarding the matter. They narrowly evaded a public embarrassment by means of trial by the merciful Supreme Court which granted a very vague and broad immunity to all “telecommunication companies currently cooperating in the efforts of national security.”
There is not much it seems that can jar the populace that has already become complacent in living in a nation which boasts the highest prison incarceration rates in the world. Living in a “Prism Nation” seems only a short step away from the “Prison Nation” we already reside. President Obama said in a response to the Prism Leak recently “But I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100% security, and also then have 100% privacy, and zero inconvenience. We’re gonna have to make some choices as a society.” I agree with the president I welcome discussion on this issue as well, thanks to Eric Snowden we the people now have a voice in the conversation the president now welcomes. To start that debate off well I would like to counter the president’s remarks with a quote from another president…
-If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom. _Dwight D.Eisenhower.
Worry not citizens and all of our fans at the N.S.A, one day, Logic Will Prevail.
The following are confidential slides referring to the operation of the NSA’s surveillance program.