Snowden's worthy act

Snowden's worthy act


Security officers outside the US consulate in Hong Kong. US whistle blower Edward Snowden (inset).
Security officers outside the US consulate in Hong Kong. US whistle blower Edward Snowden (inset).
Photos: EPA
As the court martial of US army Private Bradley Manning, who leaked evidence of military atrocities in Iraq to WikiLeaks, continues in Maryland, another major leak has been revealed. Edward Snowden, 29, fled to Hong Kong from the US after leaking to the media information about Prism, a classified National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programme which has been in operation for about seven years. The programme collects and analyses information from private user accounts of major American companies, including Facebook, Google and Microsoft. All have denied providing "direct access" and any knowledge of Prism, and say they obey the law.

Snowden leaked information about Prism to The Guardian and The Washington Post a day after a similar scandal broke: a court order was issued requiring Verizon, America's largest wireless carrier, to hand over phone records to the NSA, which President Barack Obama has defended as necessary in the fight against terrorism.

Prism's main purpose is to track foreign communications that pass through US servers, but it is reportedly such a major tool that it is included in analytical reports for Obama's daily intelligence briefing. One of its associated programmes, Boundless Informant, gave the NSA almost "three billion pieces of intelligence from US computer networks over a 30-day period ending in March 2013", according to Glenn Greenwald of The Guardian.

Both Obama and British Prime Minister David Cameron have asserted that the NSA and British intelligence agency, Government Communications Headquarters, respectively, operate "within the law". US National Intelligence Director James Clapper has even issued a fact sheet response, detailing the boundaries of Prism, and its legal framework, as provided by Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act since 2008.

But is sacrificing privacy in the name of security truly justified? Obama claims: "You can't have 100 per cent security and then have 100 per cent privacy." In the internet age, however, Americans willingly give their information to social networks and corporations for their services, yet cry "Big Brother" when the government collects data without their knowledge. Those parameters may need redefining.

Snowden, like Manning before him, acted in what he felt were the best interests of US citizens: they had a right to know, and a right to hold the system accountable for its wrongdoings. His actions should be commended.

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