(Posted by Bryana Johnson on June 16th, 2013)
For years now, Prism has been utilized by the National Security Agency (NSA) to monitor internet and telephone communications between the US and foreign nationals. And, according to the Prism PowerPoint slide, the data it can collect is essentially unlimited. For just 20 million a year, the agency is able to monitor "email, chat (video, voice), videos, photos, stored data, VoIP [internet phone calls], file transfers, video conferencing, notifications of target activity – logins etc, online social networking details" and a mysterious category called "special requests.”
Major companies, including Apple, Microsoft, Youtube, Skype, Google, and Yahoo are involved, although it is not yet known whether they participated knowingly or involuntarily.
Earlier this week, it also was revealed that the NSA has been collecting telephone data and phone records from millions of US Verizon customers under a classified court order. The order directs Verizon Business Network Services to turn over “on an ongoing daily basis” the “following tangible things”:
“All call detail records or ‘telephony metadata’ created by Verizon for communications (i) between the United States and abroad; or (ii) wholly within the United States, including local telephone calls.”
To add insult to injury, the order forbids Verizon from revealing this fact to anyone, including, obviously, their own customers. There is also nothing is the order telling the NSA when this information must be destroyed.
Amy Davidson of The New Yorker, writes,
“The government seems to have a list of all the people that Verizon customers called and who called them; how long they spoke; and, perhaps—depending on how precise the cell-phone-tower information in the metadata is, where they were on a given day…And the customers of other providers shouldn’t be reassured: it is likely that this order is simply one of a type—the one that fell off the truck.”
This starkly alarming data leak discloses only the latest incident in a string of deceitful and abhorrent acts perpetrated by the current administration. But it is one of the most significant, as it reveals the tip of the wide iceberg of federal espionage that fetters the freedom of the every American citizen.
Today, the 29-year-old NSA whistleblower responsible for the leak has come forward. "I have no intention of hiding who I am because I know I have done nothing wrong,” said Edward Snowden, who is a former technical assistant for the CIA and has been working with the NSA for four years now.
In an interview with The Guardian this morning, he explained his decision to disclose the explosive information,
"The NSA has built an infrastructure that allows it to intercept almost everything. With this capability, the vast majority of human communications are automatically ingested without targeting. If I wanted to see your emails or your wife's phone, all I have to do is use intercepts. I can get your emails, passwords, phone records, credit cards…You are not even aware of what is possible. The extent of their capabilities is horrifying. We can plant bugs in machines. Once you go on the network, I can identify your machine. You will never be safe whatever protections you put in place…I don't want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under."
Snowden, who says he’s had a comfortable life with a salary of around $200,000, a home in Hawaii with his girlfriend and a loving family, chose three weeks ago to leave his former existence behind. Perhaps forever.
“I am willing to sacrifice all of that because I can't in good conscience allow the US government to destroy privacy, internet freedom and basic liberties for people around the world with this massive surveillance machine they're secretly building," he said.
After copying the last set of pertinent documents for the leak, Snowden boarded a plane for Hong Kong and took up residence in a hotel, where he is still residing. His lifestyle may seem paranoid to some, but Snowden understands the capabilities of the government that is hunting him. He used to be one of them. Having observed the Obama’s administration’s aggressive prosecution of whistleblowers, he realizes that his situation is precarious at best. He also had some comments to make about President Obama’s marked policy shift on personal liberties, saying,
“A lot of people in 2008 voted for Obama. I did not vote for him. I voted for a third party. But I believed in Obama's promises. I was going to disclose it [but waited because of his election]. He continued with the policies of his predecessor."
Snowden says he fully expects the US government to do everything in its power to seek him out and punish him for the remainder of his life, however long that may prove to be.
"I am not afraid,” he says, “because this is the choice I've made."
Snowden’s biggest fear is that the revelation of his identity will distract attention from the issues at hand. "I don't want public attention,” he said, “because I don't want the story to be about me. I want it to be about what the US government is doing."