By RITA WANG, political columnist
The same question probably entered the minds of most Americans when it was revealed that the National Security Agency had been reading personal emails and listening in on private phone calls: why would someone even want to read boring school-related emails sent at five in the morning? Oh no! The government knows that students finished their APUSH projects in the computer lab an hour before they were due! Although this revelation seems a bit creepy, there hasn’t been many called down to Washington D.C. to be interrogated yet. Anticlimactic, right?
Critics of the NSA’s intelligence operations involving the Internet have often compared their actions to those of the government in George Orwell’s novel 1984. Big Brother is watching us now, they say, as they criticize the Obama administration for overstepping boundaries. Yet critics tend to miss the big picture in this debate: it is the job of the NSA and agencies like it to obtain information on potential threats to our country, including terrorists. But how does the government get intelligence from terrorist networks in the first place? Mark A. Theissen, a columnist at The Washington Post, explains that the NSA has three options: interrogation and torture, which was ended by the Obama administration for being inhumane and cruel; infiltration of terrorist groups, which is extremely dangerous and difficult; and signals intelligence, which is exactly what the top secret program PRISM intended to do.
The NSA enacted the PRISM program for the purpose of monitoring terroristic activities on the Internet and on the phone. PRISM is completely legal, lawful, and vital for protecting our country. This isn’t the same as Bush-era’s warrantless wiretapping; PRISM has warrants, and in situations such as the Verizon records, PRISM isn’t wiretapping at all. They are simply collecting call data such as the number dialed and the length of a call; Smith v. Maryland already ruled that the phone number dialed is shared with the phone company voluntarily to complete billing purposes and therefore cannot be expected to be private. Let’s also remember that the NSA is focused on…..collecting the data of foreign nationals, not U.S. citizens. In an article from Reuters published this June, NSA General Keith Alexander stated that NSA surveillance efforts have “contributed to the ‘understanding and, in many cases, disruptions’ of 50 terrorist plots.” In fact, there shouldn’t even be any outrage directed toward this program, since Obama is only continuing what Bush started in 2005, and has even opted for a more ethical approach by ending warrantless wiretapping.
Edward Snowden, the “whistleblower” in all this drama, fled to Cuba and Russia to escape a possible incarceration. Supporters ..have .exalted him, saying that he has liberated us from ignorance of a corrupt, unlawful government. However, some of the secrets Snowden has leaked might have serious repercussions on the safety of the country now that they are known. Firstl some of his leaks tell terrorists what they previously did not know: that we are reading their emails and listening in to their phone calls. This has caused and continues to result in the NSA losing a lot of leads and key information that might have stopped future terrorist attacks. Second, these leaks cause the United States to lose credibility on an international stage. Snowden made the government look as if it cannot keep a secret, then exacerbated the situation by fleeing to Cuba and Russia, both of which aren’t on the best terms with the United States.
The response from Congress has been divisive, to say the least: John Boehner has called Snowden a traitor, rejecting Snowden’s moniker of “whistleblower” because he committed a felony, while New Jersey 12th district representative Rush Holt immediately filed H.R. 2818, a resolution to repeal the PATRIOT Act, which allows such surveillance programs. However, those who sit on the Senate or House Intelligence Committee, such as Representative Peter King of New York, refuse to buy into the media frenzy that followed Snowden’s leak. Bloomberg reports that King has stated there is “a grab bag of misinformation and distortion” and that the NSA has a “99.99 percent batting average.” With all the confusion occurring in Congress at this time, it is very unlikely that the ten bills on the floor right now limiting the scope of the NSA’s power will ever come to fruition.
The NSA was acting lawfully with the PRISM program, but it had to be obscured from the American people to insure that the program would be kept secret from potential terrorists.
Relax. The NSA doesn’t care about anyone’s boring school-related emails or late-night movie marathons, and it definitely won’t waste time reading them. Being safe does not mean stealing rights.