In May, Edward Snowden, a former contractor for the NSA, broke his confidentiality agreement and came forward to the American news press about the NSA's surveillance program, PRISM. He told his story to both The Guardian and The Washington Post. Hailed by some as a whistleblower and denounced by others as being a traitor, Snowden is now a political fugitive with asylum in Russia. Whether Snowden is a patriotic talebearer or a devious turncoat, the issues he raised about the NSA's intrusion on privacy cannot be ignored.
Dangers to American Businesses
Successful American businesses such as Google, Verizon, AT&T, Facebook and a number others found themselves in the crosshairs of the PRISM scandal. Now some consumers, both foreign and domestic, feel reluctant to use these products and services for fear that the U.S. government has access to all information that they transmit. Since many of the world's most successful cloud server services are located in the United States where the spying occurs, many foreign companies and governments are now refusing to do business with these American corporations.
As if overcoming this obstacle wasn't enough for these companies, a new aspect of PRISM has come to light. The government is spending $250 million per year on a program to plant moles within companies to leave a "back door" open in the security of online products. The NSA uses this back door to break into a companys data system and spy.
Dangers to American Interests Abroad
Though the U.S. isn't the only country accused of digital spying, countries all over the globe have denounced programs like PRISM, with France recently coming under fire for its monitoring of phone calls, emails and Internet queries. In addition to defending national lawsuits by Facebook and Yahoo!, Europe has come forward to express outrage at these operations. Finland is taking the lead, claiming that wiretaps, email snooping and monitoring web searches are against their laws. The countrys Communications Minister Pia Viitanen plans to take his complaints before the European Commission. Other countries have also proposed pursing legal means of stopping PRISM.
Dangers to Individuals
Companies and countries, however, have many more resources than the ordinary citizen. Sixty-two percent of those polled by the Pew Research Center and The Washington Post were not concerned with the government spying on them. This is possibly due to a belief that they are immune to spying because they are not directly involved in illegal activity. However, citizens are possibly at risk of misplaced attribution of guilt based on their associations and communications with criminals. Americans may be underestimating their own problems with the PRISM program.
The Ethical Debate
The issue is largely one of personal privacy versus national security, and which one is most important. Politically, some argue that the safety and security of the nation are more vital than privacy and freedom, while others tout the Fourth Amendment, which protects individuals against unreasonable searches, including searches of their phone calls, emails and web queries. Is the nation willing to give up their digital privacy to prevent another event like 9/11?
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