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Spying on the Spies: Who’s Protecting Our Freedoms?

(13/06/2013) “One of the most explosive national security leaks in US history” occurred last week after Edward Snowden, a former employee of the National Security Agency in America, leaked several highly sensitive documents to the Guardian newspaper which exposed the vast spy network the American government has amassed. Only this spy network was not just for suspected terrorist or other suspected criminals, this was for the vast majority of U.S citizens who are not suspected of a even single crime. Rather than acquiring highly personal data of a citizen believed to be a threat to national security, they simply collect all the new data from the likes of Verizon, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Apple and many other major corporations, and store it. This effectively means the U.S Government suspects every U.S citizens to be a criminal or potential threat. What supposedly free democracy does that?

For those still on the fence, the FSA’s surveillance under the FISA Amendments Act was found unconstitutional by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in June 2011, which was then kept quiet by the Executive. I’m not going to go into full detail about the information of the story, I recommend you do that here and watch the interview with the whistleblower/traitor (depending on your perspective) here. This post is more about why we should care about this government data trawl, that engrosses Europe as well.

On his campaign trail, President Obama promised not to undermine the Constitution of the United States and protect this quaint old notion of freedom. However, not only has he not repealed any of the already controversial Patriot Act, in fact did the opposite of what he said and intensified it. This so called ‘war on terror’ will inevitably need some sacrifice in order to stop those who wish to do great harm to civilized society, but this massive and continuing acceleration of unaccountable intelligence gathering, without recent public approval, has reached an unprecedented new level. An utterly intolerable level at that. There is little to no Congressional oversite the process and few even knew how it work until this ‘biggest intelligence leak in history’.

However, once again the apathy of many infuriates me and it appears few people truly value the notion of privacy and freedom. But why should you? “I’ve not got any problem with being watched, I’m not a criminal, I’ve not got anything to hide, I want them to catch the bad guys.’ These are all common and somewhat valid counter arguments. However, there are many excellent and imperative reason that you should not just lay down and accept this tyranny.

Firstly, privacy is not criminal, nor is not an expendable commodity. It is an absolute right that should be guaranteed to every law abiding citizen, something Obama has now openly admitted is in fact not the case. It is so heavily protected in the constitution because it is so intertwined with many other equally inalienable rights. Privacy is a cornerstone freedom of expression and belief, as they are both in essence, impossible to have without privacy. Most importantly, if there is no privacy then there is only tyranny. You are not free. If the government knows every one you speak to, everything you do and everything you say then I’m afraid that is tyranny.

Here you could still apply the argument: well what does that matter, I still don’t commit crimes. Firstly I will have to momentarily ignore your pathetic pacifism and just remind you, who makes the law? The state. Who deems what is acceptable and what is not? The state. What happens when the state does something you don’t like, in fact, you detest? Well nothing, you will just have to agree, which will be hard seeing as they know everything you say. But there is no need to hypothesize to frighten you, this is real. Just read to what the Edward said in his interview to the Guardian:

“It’s getting to the point where you don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion by somebody, even by a wrong call. Then they can use this system to go back in time and scrutinize every descion you’ve ever made, every friend you’ve ever discussed something with and attack you on that basis to sort of derive suspicion from an innocent life and paint you in the context of a wrong-doer.”

Our Turkish comrades are pervasively standing up for their freedom so why aren’t we? We don’t even need to protect ourselves from tear gas or police batons. I’m not trying to say we should, or even remotely could, revert to some outdated liberal utopia, and I despise any terrorist scum and hope they should be caught and punished. But there is a line that has firmly been crossed. Yes it might not be a problem for you now, but this apparatus and it’s capacity continues to grow at an alarming rate and we need to demand more oversite and a review of it’s effectiveness. The people need to again be consulted on how their liberties are used and it is your duty as a citizen to stand together with your fellow man and demand the respect and liberty you damn well deserve.

But what can I do?

For you Americans reading, rather than just wait till the next election, in which Obama won’t be able to run, there is a lot you can do. Already, 86 Civil Liberty Groups and Internet companies have signed an open letter to congress which you can sign here:

You can also sign the petition to pardon Edward Snowden (who felt it such a breach of people’s liberties in American, he quit is $200,000 a year job in Hawaii and fled to Hong Kong to do so) here:

And feel free to write to your Congressman.

These revelations also show this intelligence gathering extends far beyond America’s borders. The way the infrastructure of the internet is set up, the majority of traffic flows through America so much of Europe is also being monitored. Most European governments were quick to denounce this for what it is and Angela Merkel is going to bring this up with Obama about it at their Berlin meeting next week.

Of course the British Government didn’t denounce it, but defend it. That is because the British equivalent of NSA, The Government Communications Headquarters, was explicitly stated in the Prism documents that were leaked and are significantly involved. After an hour of questioning William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, in Parliament, the only meaningful question came from former Home Secretary David Blunkett, who asked:

“Can we take a closer look at how other agencies including the National Security Agency and our friends and colleagues in the US, use material gathered from network and service providers, and offer it, rather than having it sought from them, in a way that makes authorization extremely difficult?”

This was met with an appallingly bland response as Hague kept insisting that all British intelligence gathering was kept within the law. I’m sure this is the case but there are worrying speculations that these thorough laws can be bypassed by using this Prism mechanism. Indeed, the Foreign Minister did not use the word Prism once, and it’s clear more scrutiny is needed. To take action over Britain’s involvement write to your local MP demanding for more transparency, scrutiny and answers.

Do not be apathetic about this and do not accept any infringement on your rights. Yes security is very important, but these human rights are also very important and cannot be discarded at the will of unaccountable figures deep within the halls of power. This is not something we should just expect and if you don’t do anything, then you will get exactly what you deserve. But personally, I simply will not accept loosing my liberty.


About Dean Forrester

Dean Forrester is the Editor-in-Chief of The International Citizen. An International Politics graduate from King's College London, with an NCTJ Diploma in Journalism, he is interested in international affairs and development.
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