By Andrew Edwards
It seems like every day there is a new report on just how pervasive the National Security Administration’s (NSA) domestic and international spying has become. It’s been known for a while that the agency has been recording phone calls and internet histories of citizens of the United States and several other countries, but recent news articles have shown that they do not stop there.
The NSA, and its British equivalent, has been tapping smartphone apps and games to collect the personal data gathered from users. This includes all kinds of information ranging from age to the locations a user has visited and purchases they have made. Basically, any time you use the phone or internet, the NSA could be watching, listening and recording.
Those who defend the NSA and its spying program will say that you have nothing to fear unless you are doing something wrong, but who decides which websites or locations you visit constitute wrongdoing? Raw information without context can never present a full story, but it could be used to present someone in a certain light. The real danger of having a cache of information on every citizen is that once this information is collected, it doesn’t really go away. Maybe the people in power now won’t use this information maliciously, but who knows what might happen in the future?
It is already surprisingly easy to make a person out to be a criminal if they happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time and many people are wrongly charged when there is just a small amount of circumstantial evidence presented against them. If a governmental agency has access to every citizen’s personal information and a list of their movements, it could make anyone appear suspicious if it fits an agenda.
It would be bad enough if this spying was limited to the United States, but information leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA has monitored telephone calls of citizens of France, the United Kingdom and Germany, among others. The people monitored in these other countries include world leaders and international business executives, according to Snowden.
The secret documents leaked by Snowden shed light on how the NSA uses the information gathered from its spying program to discredit influential individuals who hold political or religious beliefs it deems to be radical. One document describes how the internet histories of six Muslim men the agency identified as “radical,” which included visits to pornographic websites, were made public in an effort to damage their reputations. The men were not suspected of being involved in any terrorist activity but simply held views the NSA did not agree with.
This sets a very dangerous precedent: if a person seems to hold views that the American government sees as contrary to its interests, then its agencies are free to damage that person’s reputation by publicizing private information.
The information leaked by Snowden also shows how the NSA spies on large international companies, such as the German engineering giant and producer of power-generating turbines Siemens AG, and gathers information it feels may be useful to the U.S. or its interests. The potential for abuse of this information is huge, as industry secrets could be worth very large sums of money and its circulation could potentially disrupt global economies.
Perhaps the worst part about this situation is that the NSA has very little oversight by elected officials, so the American people have virtually no say in how the agency is governed. While the Obama Administration has claimed that the NSA’s programs have congressional oversight, many members of congress were unaware of many of the spying programs before information was leaked by Snowden and are consistently denied information about them as they are classified as top secret. Furthermore, the official in charge of the NSA, the director of national intelligence, is appointed by the president, not elected.
While the situation seems bleak, every new report of the NSA’s abuses of power brings growing international and domestic pressure against its spying programs. If the American people make resistance to these programs an election issue and contact their elected officials, we can end the spying and purge the NSA’s records.