The Washington Post and Pew Research Center conducted a random poll over the weekend of 1,004 Americans, asking their opinion on the government’s use of secret court orders to track telephone calls of millions of Americans in an effort to investigate terrorism.
Sixty-two percent of respondents said that it is more important for the government to investigate threats, even if it intrudes on privacy, while 34 percent said the government should not intrude even if it limits its investigation. Forty-five percent said that the U.S. government should be able to monitor everyones email and other online activities if it might prevent future terrorist attacks.
The Guardian reported on June 5 2013 that the NSA issued Verizon a secret court order to hand over call data of Verizon customers. The order is un-targeted which means that the NSA can snoop on calls without suspecting anyone of wrongdoing.
This was just the tip of the iceberg.
News broke the next day that the U.S. government is conducting a top secret data mining program called PRISM where the FBI and NSA gather informations from the servers of nine major tech companies– Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple– which are all denying awareness. The Wall Street Journal reported that Sprint and AT&T are also involved in similar surveillance program.
The White House responded to criticism of its Verizon program saying it is necessary to protect the U.S. population from terrorism:
“Information of the sort described in the Guardian article has been a critical tool in protecting the nation from terrorist threats to the United States, as it allows counterterrorism personnel to discover whether known or suspected terrorists have been in contact with other persons who may be engaged in terrorist activities, particularly people located inside the United States.”
The discovery of PRISM has elicited strong reactions from people on all sides. While some are expressing outrage on the violations of freedoms, others have said they are not at all surprised, and many are OK with it because they believe it ensures a greater degree of safety from national security threats.
The Patriot Act greatly expanded the FBI and NSA’s abilities to track the activities of American citizens but even the author of the Patriot Act said that the government is going too far. The ease with which the government can cast a massive dragnet and allegedly monitor suspected sources is chilling
“In digital era, privacy must be a priority. Is it just me, or is secret blanket surveillance obscenely outrageous?” Al Gore said in a tweet.
This is a massive crisis with constitutional implications on privacy, security, and freedom from surveillance. The balance between personal privacy and the government’s ability to conduct terrorist investigations has been a controversial topic since 9/11. In 2006 when news broke about the NSA’s monitoring of telephone and e-mail communications without court approval, the Post said there was a closer divide on the practice– 51 percent to 47 percent. Furthermore, Democrats are now 12 percentage points more likely to support the government’s monitoring of all e-mails and other online activity if officials say that it might help prevent terrorists attacks, as compared to a 2002 Pew poll.
Is the American population really this comfortable giving up our Constitutionally-granted freedoms? This is one of the few times where I hope the data isn’t accurate.