By Kaci Demarest
After information regarding the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program was leaked last week, many questions still remain about the program and its legality.
Former CIA Agent Edward Snowden released classified information to the British newspaper The Guardian about what the NSA was doing. In addition, he released a forty-one slide power point that detailed the mission; however, only five slides have been published for the public. The Guardian claimed the PowerPoint is “so ugly it’s meant to stay secret.”
The NSA fashioned an order April 25, shortly after the Boston Bombings, to collect three months worth of metadata from Verizon phones. Metadata is information about when calls or chats were made, who they were to and from, where they were made, and how long the phone call or chat took place. The program was not given the ability to obtain the content of calls. This requires a separate warrant. Accessing content without the specific warrant would be considered wiretapping, which is illegal.
The NSA used a program called Prism to collect the metadata. Prism gives the government access to e-mails and chat logs from websites such as Google, Facebook, AOL, Yahoo, and Microsoft. The program can be used to collect communications, as well as metadata. The program costs the government about $20 million a year to run.
“We have a constitutional right to make sure that information about us and what we do should be kept confidential and should not be able to be used without our knowledge,” Steve Gallardo, District 13 Arizona State House Rep., said. “Homeland security is very important, but at the end of the day, there is a line that you cannot cross. They crossed that line.”
The biggest issues around the controversy concern the balance of security and privacy, as well as the extent of the government’s power to spy on its own citizens for their own protection.
The government’s resources for collecting metadata extend worldwide. In March, the NSA gathered 100 billion pieces of information worldwide. The top countries where the NSA is gathering information from include Iran, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and India. Three billion pieces of intelligence came from American computer networks.
“Limited and controlled monitoring is one thing but massive data dumping and mining is too prone to purposeful or accidental invasions of privacy,” John Kavanagh, District 8 Arizona State House Rep., said.
This is not the first time the NSA has taken a look at Americans’ private communication activity. Under the Bush administration, the NSA was in hot water over wiretapping phone calls without the proper warrant. Bush claimed the “terrorist surveillance program” had saved lives, according to the New York Times.
“While I’m generally supportive of anti terrorism programs like all Americans I’m worried that the Bush program has been extended past its original intentions by President Obama,” Kavanagh said. “I think we need some congressional oversight and control.”
The federal government claims that the NSA program has saved lives. NSA Head Gen. Keith B. Alexander claimed that this secret surveillance program has prevented dozens of terror attacks in the recent years.
“I’m not sure if our country is any safer with this, but nonetheless I think there is a limit there. I think they may have crossed that limit. You can protect your homeland without violating the rights of your citizens,” Gallardo said.
The CIA whistleblower who leaked the information is currently hiding in Hong Kong while the government is left to face scrutiny from its citizens. In recent statements, Snowden has dared the Obama administration to come after him.
Check out this interactive link by The Guardian to see under what circumstances the government might uncover and investigate your data.