Essay Example on Edward Snowden Exposes NSA Surveillance of US Citizens

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  7
Wordcount:  1922 Words
Date:  2023-03-12

Edward Snowden, on June 5, 2013, surprised everyone worldwide when he exposed highly classified data from the National Security Agency (NSA) to a British daily paper, The Guardian. The documents had NSA secrets on the surveillance of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, where it was instructing Verizon to collect information from all U.S. and international telephone calls. From the records, Snowden was able to expose how NSA was spying on the American citizens through their stored metadata on phone call records with authority from both the US president and congress authority. However, with the leaking of this vital secret, US president Obama alongside Senator Diane Feinstein, came out clearly to defend the agency and downplayed the ferocity of the metadata being collected through the program by stating them as just metadata.

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But their sentiments on the issue was not that convincing to the masses, as trough the records, the US government through NSA was spying on its citizens suspected to have links with the Al-Qaida, a terrorist group that is attributed for the 9/11 attack in the US in the year 2001. However, what troubled the citizens most was the spying that went on to even check on the messages of the innocent citizens who had no links with the terrorist groups, more so, the masses was troubled more by the amount of very crucial and sensitive personal data that would have been gathered through the metadata. From the information, it was then evident that NSA was not only collecting the metadata, but there was more.

NSA was given the authority to conduct surveillance by the Congress under the USA PATRIOT Act after the 9/11 attack. Through the act, Congress gave the government more authority and power to do more robust surveillance especially using technology so that the state could avoid such attacks in the future. The metadata collection was authorized by the Congress under section 215 of the act initially but was amended under the PATRIOT Improvement and Reauthorization Act of 2005. Through the Act, the government was required to collect enough evidence to prove a case of terrorism, with enough ground of research and evidence to validate their facts against international terrorism. Under section 215, the government was empowered more compel the production of written materials and records such as books, documents papers, etc.

Through the increased powers of the state, the government was now able to collect more information on its citizens, especially the call records without any warrant. The program went on to collect calls made from America to the outside world and also to collects call recordings made between the American citizens. The government through the act could obtain the records from its citizens without considering the limitations under the fourth amendment of the US constitution. The fourth amendment of the law specifically states that for the government to collect any information from its citizens, it must produce a warrant for search else they will be breaching one's rights to privacy. To acquire the warrant, the government would have a probable cause that they can prove that then will enable them to obtain a warrant, before searching individuals records and metadata. However, the president and the government, through their statements, downplayed the severity of collecting the metadata as he claimed that the NSA does not listen to individuals calls.

However, given the case of student X who is a citizen of the US, I can illustrate how the government could infringe on the right to privacy. Where in a situation that NSA stores student X metadata, the student will be very vulnerable to their privacy information being disclosed, wherein a case of suspicion their metadata of up to 5 years in phone calls will be retrieved and through the phone calls some information like maybe they did an abortion 3 years ago, went to seek medical attention on some sexually transmitted disease, or does make pizza order from a restaurant down the street. When such information that seemed harmless when released will now infringe someone's personal life to privacy. So, imagine the extent of these data collected by the government daily for analysis could infringe on each citizen's right to privacy?

History of NSA

Ever since the US got its independence in 1776, there has always been some secrecy cast on some government branches. The ever-changing growth of technology worldwide has increased the need for the government to be in sync with what is happening globally at every instance of time. The need for more information especially through technology, was made more necessary for the government after the 9/11 attack in the US. Ever since, the US government has been very vigilant and going into detail on each information going through their space.

National Security Agency (NSA) came to inception in 1952, and ever since, it has been at the forefront in collecting metadata. NSA, by its nature, is a very secretive agency hence acquiring very many acronyms to its name such as "No Such Agency." NSA was formed by President Harry Truman so that it could secure the US from foreign threats. On inception, it was tasked with data collection, global monitoring, data decoding, data translation, and data analysis, and finally, counterintelligence that will enable the US to have enough information to prevent foreign threats such as the 9/11 attack.

From its inception, the agency had come to give more security to its citizens, especially against external threats; however, with the agency, various issue have a rose. Some of the problems have given the agency a negative picture to the public which has led to the public questioning if the agency is performing as per the US constitution.

The 9/11 attack in the US changed the dynamics of security, as a state that initially had never faced external threats and was secure came face to face with the terrorist act. There was now a need to act and implement new strategies that will enable the state to protect itself from such an attack in the future. Six weeks after the attack, President George W. Bush signed into law the Patriot Act. The act made it possible for the government through the NSA to intrude into its citizen's private information. As stated by President George Bush after signing the Patriot act, he said that it was essential to do surveillance on communications in the process of pursuing and stopping terrorism. The law that was initially in place was written during the time rotary telephones. However, the new law will now cover the surveillance of terrorist communication through e-mails, cell phones and the internet.

The New York Times Expose

After the Patriot Act was signed into law, various actions were taken government was questionable. One case being in 2004, the then Attorney general John Ashcroft was made to sign into effect an NSA wiretapping program, which would allow the agency to bypass the need to obtain a warrant before acquiring individuals' data. A year later, the program came into public dominion when it was published in the New York Times. It was found out that the president had secretly authorized the NSA to eavesdrop on American citizens and other people in the US to find evidence for terrorist acts without the court approval warranty that is a requirement for domestic spying. Before, the citizens were made aware that NSA will only target international communications, but going down to do the same to its citizens was a fringe of their privacy and is against the constitutional constraints. The release by New York times of the secrets of NSA led to the agency suspending its operations for some time. The state went further to ask the New York times not to publish the report as it will jeopardize its operations to curb terrorism. However, the New York Times went on to release the report, and this made people question the tactics used by the NSA and if the US constitution bounded it.

Edward Snowden Expose

Edward Snowden further exposed NSA secrecy to acquiring and infringing on personal privacy. On June 5th, 2013, Snowden using the British newspaper, The Guardian disclosed how the NSA was obtaining an individual's metadata. Through his leaks, various people questioned the government's motives to acquiring an individual's private data. Snowden leaked different intelligence information that included classified documents and multiple programs from the government. The program that caught the public eye the most is the Prism.

From the leaked PowerPoint presentation, the Prism program was put into place in 2007 by the NSA. Its primary function is to monitor the activity of foreign intelligence in the overseas. However, from the leaks, it was found out that the program had shifted from its primary function to monitor overseas individuals deemed terrorist and it was now targeting the American citizens. Alongside this finding, the government was also found culpable for breaking various regulations stipulated in the constitution and all under the watch of the citizens and legal experts.

The Prism program was used by the US National Security Agency (NSA) to collect personal private information from electronic sources especially those using the internet such as Facebook, Gmail, Outlook, etc. Access to private information is governed by section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act enacted in 2008. Through the Prism surveillance, NSA could request information from major tech companies. After the expose by The Guardian, the US government on its part stated that they could only collect Individuals data from these sources if permitted by the Foreign Intelligence Court. The implicated companies also came out strongly to deny giving the US government info, and if they did, it was through a direct court order as the US government lacked jurisdiction to access into an individual's data. The court in question is FISC, which operates in secret.

The majority of the population did not accept the denial by the internet giants to not cooperating with the program. From the power point presentations by Snowden, it was evident that Google chairman Eric Schmidt and the NSA director Keith Alexander were in constant communication and were planning various meetings that involved google executives and top government officials in discussing the issues of mobility threat and security. The conversations were made between 2011 and 2012 a long time before the leaks in 2013. This demonstrated that Google was participating in the program before the public was made aware. According to Snowden, google joined the program in January 2009.

Apart from Prism, another program that brought panic to the public on the security of their data was Upstream. Its functionality was similar to that of the prism program as it was involved in the collection of metadata of an individual target. Upstream mined data from the fiber optic cables by doing data filtering during the process of data transportation. Most data over the internet moving from one state to another or from one country to another usually are transported using the fiber optic cables. Fiber optic cables are the best choice of transport as compared to satellite communication as it offers fast means of transport that is efficient and cost-effective. The cables run from the US TO Europe and other parts of the world. The NSA have tapped into these cables using the Kevlar-reinforced lines so that they can have access to the information transmitted. From the leaked slides, the US NSA have access to abundant data being broadcast all over as at one point, and all the information must go through the US and their cables located underneath the Ocean.

After collecting the metadata from different points, the Prism is brought into action to come and complete the dots on the metadata. Prism is essenti...

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