Big Brother is here, and this article gives an explanation on the capabilities of the big brother surveillance tool.

There has been another Guardian exclusive – online access to Snowden Q&A that is worth a look if you’re just a little intrigued by all the excitement. Make yourself a cup of coffee first though 😉

What seems to be clear is that when Snowden says NSA has direct access to the 9 main Internet services, he means direct access. When questioned about denials made by Google, Facebook, Apple, etc., his response was that they had no choice. It seems they have some sort of ‘gagging’ order and break the law by admitting to these top-secret operations.

Yes so in whatever form PRISM does exist. I talked about it… well more rolled over this in previous posts. Now everything that you may want to know about PRISM to date, that is by 12 June can be found here.

Now there are two parts here, or maybe three.

1) collection of communications that happens to be passing over the wires
2) collection of social, other online activities of US citizens
3) collection of a) communications, b) social, other online activities; of non-US citizens.

Now PRISM is about (2) and (3b). PRISM is a system the NSA uses to gain access to the private communications of users of nine popular Internet services including Google, Facebook and Apple. It seems to be that an official request for information of a particular individual can be made to any of these services, and they will comply if the request is legally valid. These Internet service deny strongly that NSA has direct access to their servers.

So apparently NSA does not have direct access to the 9 most popular Internet Services, but what is the breath of their power to collect data on US-citizens?

Well the FISA Amendments Act (Section 702) does not require the government to show probable cause to believe that the target of surveillance has committed a crime. This is only for non-US citizens. Instead of showing probable cause to a judge, Section 702 of FISA allows senior Obama administration officials to “authorize” the “targeting of persons reasonably believed to be located outside the United States.” The surveillance may not “intentionally target” an American, but the NSA can obtain the private communications of Americans as part of a request that officially “targets” a foreigner. There is some use of the Patriots Act for this. I am not sure how the FISA Section 702 and the Patriots Act overlap though.

Ha! So if you as a US-citizen are communicating with an individual that is outside of the US and deemed as a threat to national security, your data is being collected. You could be a supporter of Greenpeace for example, they were targeted for surveillance in the past.

So what is my take on PRISM. It seems perfectly reasonable that in the name of national security requests for data on individuals can be collected by government intelligence. Same as officials upholding the law would request for a search warrant. However, PRISM should not be secret. That this is happening should be transparent to all US citizens and non-citizens. Why keep a secret? The supermarkets are pretty transparent about collecting our personal buying habits, maybe the package the justification in fancy packaging, but the reason is clear, to make money. So why does the government have to go around pretending still that it does not do these things? Has it not yet realized that the Cold War is over, and has been for quite some years now?

What a mess with all these emotions flying around on Ed Snowden and his actions. In the one camp are those proclaiming Snowden as a traitor, and in the other extreme camp, he is a hero, a whistleblower!

The fact that the US are wire-tapping has been known for years, it’s just that the fact has never been made official. In my book Virtual Shadows published quite some time ago in 2009, there is a section just on this

“US wiretapping practices
The US government has led a worldwide effort to limit individual privacy and enhance the capability of its police and intelligence services to eavesdrop on personal conversations. The Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) sets out legal requirements for telecommunications providers and equipment manufacturers on the surveillance capabilities that must be built into all telephone systems used in the United States.” (Virtual Shadows, 2009)

Then there is “another program, known as PRISM, has given the NSA access since at least 2007 to emails, video chats and other communications through U.S. Internet companies to spy on foreigners. American emails inevitably were swept up as well.”

There have been some embarrassing exposure before the Snowden escapade, for example “Mathematician William Binney worked for the National Security Agency for four decades, and in the late 1990s he helped design a system to sort through the digital data the agency was sucking up in the exploding universe of bits and bytes. When the agency picked a rival technology, he became disillusioned. He retired a month after the terrorist attacks of Sept 11, 2001, and later went public with his concerns.” As reported by the Los Angeles Times. Blinney called this a “digital dragnet”.

My opinion?
So what’s my take on all this. Well you should know me by now, I am a fervent believer in transparency. I believe that trust can only be built on a foundation of transparency. Clearly although the governments around the world need to ‘protect’ their citizens. But why can’t they just tell them what they are doing? “We are tracking your communications”. We are pulling information from your Facebook profile if a threat to national security is felt. Just as in the EU, data subjects should have a right to know when their personal information is being accessed. They should be informed… period.
This means they continue with their activities, but are transparent in their operations. The fact is most people don’t really seem to care. They most are selling their buying habits today for a free chicken in their shopping trolley 😉

Am I a supporter of Snowden’s actions as whistle-blower. Yes I am!