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Edward Snowden reopens Pandora’s box

Author  :       Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2013-12-04

by Chan Lowe, 

Edward Snowden, an ex-CIA employee became a household name overnight after disclosed a U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) program codenamed PRISM. This exposure rocked world media.

Government monitoring has expanded to every corner of American society. The fact that U.S. senior officers have denied the degree of monitoring for a long time has now been put on the table in plain sight. The NSA initiated PRISM in 2007. Through direct access to internet companies, information analysts are able to see directly users’ audio, videos, pictures and email, essentially enabling them to monitor internet users’ every single move. Nine major companies have been identified as participants of the program: Microsoft since 2007, Yahoo! (2008), Google (2009), Facebook (2009), Paltalk (2009), YouTube (2010), AOL (2011), Skype (2011), and Apple (2012). An article in The Washington Post indicated that "98 percent of PRISM production is based on Yahoo, Google and Microsoft."

“I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 per cent security and also then have 100 per cent privacy and zero inconvenience,” U.S. President Obama said in response to the scandal. He defended the NSA program, saying that the U.S. “struck the right balance” and that “there are a whole range of safeguards involved; and federal judges are overseeing the entire program throughout.”

Obama's response to the scandal certainly defies the majorities' expectations, Dr. Zhao Lei, an associate professor at the Central Party School in China said. Obama didn’t make apology, rather he strongly defended the U.S.’s position in support of PRISM. Zhao noted that the U.S. has been following dual standards regarding internet freedom—while exhorting other nations to provide unlimited freedom in their citizen’s internet use, it has all the while been tightening internet control within its borders.

Despite heavy rains, hundreds of demonstrators rallied outside of the U.S. Consulate in Hong Kong and gathered outside other U.S. government offices to support Edward Snowden. Chanting "protect free speech–protect Snowden," demonstrators waved placards.

"We are living in an age of surveillance," said Neil Richards, a professor at Washington University's School of Law in St. Louis who studies privacy law and civil liberties, in an AP article appearing on NBC’s website. "There's much more watching and much more monitoring, and I think we have a series of important choices to make as a society—about how much watching we want."

In the wake of 9-11, U.S. Congress approved Patriot Act “to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, (and) to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools.” Under the Act the government has the “authority to intercept wire, oral, and electronic communications relating to terrorism.” The Act also expanded the role of the Secretary of the Treasury, granting it authority to monitor internet financial transaction and other financial activities with foreign countries.

The revelation of PRISM has once again put the debate on national security and individual privacy in the media and public spotlight. Quoted in an article on live science by Stephanie Pappas, David Fidler, a cybersecurity expert and professor at Indiana University's Maurer School of Law said, "This taps into a very, very old debate in American politics and American constitutional law: how to protect the nation from real threats that exist while at the same time retaining our commitment to core philosophical values."

Public attitudes toward information surveillance are rather complicated, according to the latest national survey conducted by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post. It is almost evenly divided over the question of the government’s monitoring of email and other online activities to prevent possible terrorism: 52% said no, 45% said yes.

Zhao Lei said, “Americans have a strong feeling of insecurity. Individual freedom has been sacrificed to national security to a large extent.” Since Obama came to office, the U.S. counterterrorism strategy has withdrawn from foreign territory to domestic security. However, its security situation hasn’t fundamentally improved; terrorist attacks have still shadowed the U.S. society. The Boston Marathon bombing this past April is one such example.

The U.S. has condemned other countries for obstructing internet freedom. Now Snowden’s exposure of the U.S.’s information surveillance has given internet users worldwide a vivid lesson.



Mao Li is a reporter from Chinese Social Sciences Today.



Chinese version appeared in Chinese Social Sciences Today, No. 462, June 14, 2013



  Translated by Feng Daimei

  Revised by Charles Horne

Editor: Du Mei

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