This article has been submitted by Vaibhav Sharma for the CLATGyan Blog Post Writing Competition. If you think this article is a good read, ‘Like’ this article on Facebook (the button is at the bottom of this piece) or post a comment using the ‘comments’ section below.
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”
“You can’t have 100% security, and also then have 100% privacy and zero inconvenience.”
A traitor for some, a hero to many, Edward Snowden worked for Booz Allen Hamilton as an infrastructure analyst for National Security Agency in Hawaii. The messiah of liberty and personal privacy and a hero for many across the world had revealed the top-secret PRISM program in an interview to The Guardian.
PRISM is a surveillance program, which was launched by the NSA which was used to carry out warrantless surveillance on targets such as Al-Qaeda, among others. The targets, however, are non-US citizens; they claim to have taken utmost care to ensure that US citizens’ data is not under the scanner.
The origin of this program dates back to 1978 when the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) was passed. According to this act, a special court would be set up which would grant warrants to carry out electronic surveillance if they suspected that an organization or an individual was involved in espionage or were planning to launch an attack against the country.
However, after 9/11, the Bush Government secretly gave the NSA permission to carry out surveillance without having to obtain any said warrants from the special court.
In 2005, the firms which cooperated with the NSA were given immunity and FISA was amended accordingly. In 2008 the rules were relaxed, this allowed the officials to obtain court warrant or orders without having to mention who exactly was the target and what method of surveillance they were going to use as long as the court was convinced that the surveillance was being carried out on the grounds of the need to gather foreign intelligence information.
National Security Agency director Keith Alexander has claimed that the PRISM program has helped prevent more than 50 terrorist attacks since 9/11.
The EU’s justice commissioner, Viviane Reding and the Chinese government have protested strongly against this program. President Putin however believes that this is a practical way to combat terrorism.
The leak had a negative impact on the relations between America and the European Union. They have setup a joint working group to examine the issue and take necessary steps.
President Obama and the other top US officials are doing their best to appease the outraged leaders in Europe and around the world, fearing that the leak will jolt their trade relations as well. Obama however, claims that they are not listening to the phone conversations or snooping at the e-mails of the public. According to another shocking revelation, the National Security Agency monitored the United Nations’ headquarters by hacking into the video conferencing system. According more leaked documents, the other targets of the National Security Agency are the European Union and the International Atomic Energy Agency. The National Security Agency however tried to justify their actions by claiming that the operation is being carried out under the confines of the law.
Assuming that the leaked documents are legitimate and the allegations are true, which, judging by the reaction of the Obama administration and the entire world are in fact, true. How does the Obama administration propose to justify its actions; snooping at other governments, agencies or phone conversations, messages or emails of normal citizens due to any trivial reason can’t be justified. One would understand if the surveillance program was being carried out to snoop on the so called terrorist countries that pose a threat to countries around the world only but the surveillance is being carried out on its allies as well. They have even put their relations with other countries in jeopardy. Even the reasons for carrying out the surveillance s not clear yet. People around the world are outraged as this is a blatant invasion of personal privacy and what’s shocking is that none of the world leaders however have taken a proper stand against America; the United Nations would already have imposed sanctions by now had it been any other country. How has this matter not been taken up by United Nations till now? How are they planning to explain themselves and their actions? Even the people who haven’t done anything wrong may even get into trouble for getting a call from wrong number. Mere speeches do not justify such actions. President Obama said that the surveillance was being carried out in the interest of the American citizen when even they are the targets of this program.
What happened to Edward Snowden and where is he now?
Edward Snowden fled to Hong Kong on May 20th Snowden explained his choice of Hong Kong thus:
“NSA employees must declare their foreign travel 30 days in advance and are monitored. There was a distinct possibility I would be interdicted en route, so I had to travel with no advance booking to a country with the cultural and legal framework to allow me to work without being immediately detained. Hong Kong provided that. Iceland could be pushed harder, quicker, before the public could have a chance to make their feelings known, and I would not put that past the current US administration”.
But on June 23rd he left for Moscow as the Hong Kong authorities were contemplating extraditing him to America. On July 1 2013, he applied to 20 countries for asylum and alleged that Vice-President Joe Biden pressured the countries into refusing. Later he applied to 6 more countries. Even these countries denied him asylum citing technical reasons, one of them being India. This was highly disappointing and surprising. India was once an advocate of freedom, democracy and liberty and had championed the cause of many countries and achieved many objectives against all odds. She also was an integral part of United Nations and one of the founding members of the Non-Aligned Movement. Why was this hero denied asylum? We have stood up against the US before, why back off now? This man stood up and perhaps prevented wars and not to mention is trying to protect the liberty of billions of people.
The US officials are now in hot pursuit of Snowden and are will surely look to have vengeance. We can only hope that Russia keeps him safe from their hands.
Vaibhav Sharma is a second-time law school aspirant from Bombay, who is also pursuing a Bachelor of Arts course. He enjoys gaming, reading, eating and sleeping – in no particular order. He likes reading fantasy, science-fiction and George Orwell novels.