The next time you enjoy a casual Skype conversation with your family, there is a chance the government may be listening in.
In June, Edward J. Snowden revealed that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been collecting the metadata of many cell phone users in the country. This highly publicized leak led American citizens to question whether they retain basic rights to privacy during everyday interactions.
Since the leak occurred, several more facts have come to light about the NSA’s involvement in accessing such technological information. For example, the government can issue directives to Internet companies like Google and Facebook in order to acquire emails, video, voice chats, photos, voiceover IP calls (like Skype) and social networking information. Using the weak argument that some of this data may be relevant for investigation at some point in the future, the NSA has clearly established a deceptive operation that enables them to abuse people’s personal details.
The public’s cause for concern is completely justified, as some of this collected metadata can lead investigators to infer specific facets of people’s individualities, like religious affiliations or political activities. More than just a breach of our technological habits, this violation of privacy is an offense against how we prefer to express our identities.
While these data collecting initiatives are intended to capture “foreign” targets that could pose a terrorist threat, there is a high likelihood that the government will also gather information on innocent American citizens. PRISM — an NSA surveillance program that mines data — has a 51 percent confidence rate that a given target is “foreign,” according to The Washington Post. This shockingly low number suggests that 49 percent of PRISM’s subjects are largely innocent Americans whose phone records and personal information are readily accessible by the NSA.
Last Wednesday, director of national intelligence James R. Clapper admitted that the institution had conducted a secret pilot project in 2010 and 2011 that collected information about cell phone locations. Clapper affirms that the “NSA received samples in order to test the ability of its systems to handle the data format, but that data was not used for any other purpose and was never available for intelligence analysis purposes,” according to the New York Times.
In addition to this shocking news, NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander recently revealed that there had been at least 12 known cases in which agency employees abused their power by spying on people for personal reasons.
All of these startling confessions suggest that the NSA is incapable of effectively implementing these data collection procedures. By placing such power in the hands of people who are clearly unable to manage the wealth of information at their fingertips, the government has made a deeply flawed decision.
Right now, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy is attempting to pass legislation that would make it illegal for the NSA to collect phone call records for their own use. We at City on a Hill Press stand in solidarity with Leahy and hope that any attempt toward nullifying the toxic effects of the NSA is welcomed by Congress.
While in theory such an attempt at security could be a positive step forward for this country’s defense, it’s simply unacceptable that the NSA’s “anti-terrorism” measures come at the cost of the public’s privacy. Until the NSA can offer a clearer glimpse into their operations or they cease incidentally gathering people’s personal information and data, we will continue to question, resist and rebel against this egregious misuse of government power.