Edward Snowden says his “mission’s already accomplished” after leaking NSA secrets that have caused a reassessment of US surveillance policies.
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the American people, through their elected representatives in Washington, chose to exchange a significant amount of freedom for safety.
But until a lone information-technology contractor named Edward Snowden leaked a trove of National Security Agency documents to the media this summer, we didn’t know just how much we’d surrendered.
Now that we do, our nation can have a healthy debate ” out in the open, as a democracy should debate ” about how good a bargain we got in that exchange.
For facilitating that debate, at great risk to his own personal liberty, Snowden is this column’s technology person of the year for 2013.
While a long line of so-called leaders of the tech industry were repeating the smug mantra that “there is no privacy” ” all while secretly cooperating with the NSA’s surveillance program ” Snowden risked prosecution and jail to give Americans the chance to choose for themselves whether it still matters in the digital age.
Secrecy has long been a favorite tool of totalitarian regimes that want to stifle internal political debate. Secret courts were a staple of Joseph Stalin’s Soviet Union, used to exile dissidents to Siberian gulags. They are still used today by China’s communist government to silence its critics.
The US also has secret courts, first created under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) of 1978.
The FISA court was set up to allow American intelligence agencies to track foreign agents without allowing those agents to know about it, as they would if the warrant for monitoring their communications had to be approved in a public court.
On its surface, that rationale sounds reasonable. Yet, like all secret courts, hidden from oversight, it was allowed to run amok.
After 9/11, it became a rubber stamp that approved massive surveillance programs that swept up the phone and Internet communications of ordinary Americans.
Whether that surveillance captured any actual communication or so-called metadata about phone calls and e-mails is a new argument that members of Congress and the NSA are now trying to use to confuse the debate.
But it misses the key point: If the government wants to know about the routine communication of law-abiding Americans, it should have to prove to a judge in an open courtroom that that surveillance is in the best interests of public safety.
This privacy safeguard is enshrined in the Fourth Amendment, which protects us all against “unreasonable searches and seizures.”
Thanks to Snowden, this country can now argue and debate ” in the federal courts and in the halls of Congress ” whether the NSA’s surveillance programs are constitutional.
Snowden also showed just how inept the NSA was in protecting even its own information. Let’s not forget the 9/11 terrorist attacks represented the worst intelligence failure in the nation’s history.
But critics of that failure were soon bullied into silence by hysterical talk from those who needed to focus Americans’ attention on our enemies, as when former secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld famously said people, “need to be very careful about what they say.”
Not since Sen. Joseph McCarthy’s Communist witch hunt of the 1950s had fear become so palpable in the land of the free and the home of the brave. That was enough to cow most of the tech industry’s largest companies into cooperating with the NSA.
Fortunately, some Americans are not so frightened of our enemies as Rumsfeld that they would trade liberty for safety.
Some believe that taxpayer-funded entities such as the NSA and the FISA court should have some measure of public oversight, to ensure they are helping to protect the U.S. Constitution, rather than undermining it.
Now that the scope of NSA spying has been exposed, let’s have a debate about all of it. And let’s thank Edward Snowden for moving that debate into the public arena.
Source: Press TV