Those of us who believed the Internet was the door to greater freedom have been conned. Wherever you are on the planet, your emails, texts, audio, video, Skype calls, and social media pages are an open book for American spies via the PRISM program’s technology that is also capable of logging your telephone calls.
US civil liberties groups are up in arms over government eavesdropping on ordinary law-abiding citizens without a court order on the grounds that such widespread abuse of personal privacy contravenes the constitution as well as the PATRIOT Act, hurried through post-9/11.
Congress is divided with some senators defending the program for keeping America safe against terrorism, but that dog won’t hunt when during the past decade terrorist attacks on US soil have been extremely rare with death from natural disasters and car accidents far exceeding fatalities caused by terrorism.
I would postulate that PRISM is more about the government thought police controlling US citizens and having the ability to listen-in to the rest of the world than preventing terrorist threats.
Do you recall George W. Bush characterizing terrorists as people who hate “our freedoms”? Of course, that was a nonsense, but let’s suppose for the sake of argument it’s true. In that case, the terrorists have won hands down when privacy is a core staple of a democracy that claims to be ‘the Land of the Free.’
To quote President Franklin D. Roosevelt “The only sure bulwark of continuing liberty is a government strong enough to protect the interests of the people and a people strong enough and well enough informed to maintain its sovereign control over the government.”
In that spirit, the Guardian’s explosive revelations, which also implicate UK intelligence agencies as having access to Britons’ private data via the US National Security Agency (NSA), have done all of us, including Americans, a great service. But the real hero of the day is 29-year-old Edward Snowden, who after four years of working at the NSA during his employment with a defense contractor, made a moral decision to blow the whistle, not to mention a startlingly courageous one by coming out in public to proudly announce what he’d done and his reasons for doing it.
Snowden could have sold his secrets to the highest bidder but as a testament to his integrity, he’s said goodbye to his girlfriend, his family, his comfortable home in Hawaii and a well-paid US $200,000-a-year job because to use his words, “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.”
In a note that accompanied the first set of documents handed to the Guardian he wrote “I understand that I will be made to suffer for my actions,” but “I will be satisfied if the federation of secret law, unequal pardon and irresistible executive powers that rule the world that I love are revealed even for an instant.”
From his Hong Kong hotel bolt-hole he fears being assassinated or abducted by the CIA; he knows more than anyone how easily he can be traced. His only hope is that the Chinese government will resist US attempts to extradite him for, in that event, he will probably face life behind bars for “aiding the enemy.” At this juncture, China holds the key to his future. Will Beijing hand him over for the sake of its relations with Washington? Will he be detained and pumped for further NSA secrets or will he be placed under Chinese protection? Those questions must be uppermost on the mind of this lonely individual, a man who has burnt all his bridges with everyone and everything he loves, awaiting his fate.
As shocking as the news of PRISM’s overreach may be to many of us, alternative websites have been exposing the US government’s electronic monitoring of Americans for years without being taken seriously, their messages invariably written off as crazed conspiracy theories. Until now, state-owned and corporate media have neglected to investigate such apparently outlandish allegations, which we now know, were wholly factual.
There is one exception. In 2006, an article, titled “NSA has massive database of Americans’ phone calls,” published in USA Today, revealed, “The National security Agency has been secretly collecting the phone call records of tens of millions of Americans, using data provided by AT&T, Verizon and BellSouth.” A White House spokesperson answered the charge with a blatant lie, saying “There is no domestic surveillance without court approval.”
The USA Today article didn’t pack the same kind of punch as the Guardian expose because sources weren’t named and it wasn’t supported by documentary evidence.
Wired magazine reported in March that the NSA was constructing a $2 billion data center in Utah to decipher, analyze and store satellite and undersea cable communications, both foreign and domestic.
It appears that President Obama may be a neoconservative in sheep’s clothing. One of the goals set-out by the neoconservative think tank The Project for a New American Century in a paper, titled “Rebuilding America’s Defenses,” that was all about maintaining US global dominance was this: “Control the new International commons of space and cyberspace . . .”
The silence of the international community is deafening, surprisingly so when US intelligence is free to monitor the communications not only of foreign citizens but also those of head of states, ministers, business leaders etc. Where is the international outrage? Forget about America’s foes. Why aren’t its allies and partners incensed? Knowledge can be used to blackmail and coerce.
No wonder the US is vehemently resisting calls by Russia, China, Saudi Arabia and other nations for international guardianship/control of the Internet to be handed to the United Nations.
Rep. Fred Upton from Michigan thinks that’s a terrible idea “allowing governments to monitor or restrict content.” Take a look in the mirror, Mr. Upton. Your own government is doing exactly that and worse, which is why, for the sake of all our freedoms, its hegemony over cyberspace must stop.
Linda S. Heard is a British specialist writer on Middle East affairs. She welcomes feedback and can be contacted by email at email@example.com.