The United States under the Obama administration is undergoing yet another scandal related to the invasion of privacy of its citizens as well as members of the international diplomatic community.
Remember when diplomatic cables leaked by the whistle-blowing agency WikiLeaks made it public that the Obama Administration had spied on U.N. officials and even gathered bio-metric information on them?
Well, the information we have learnt about the recently leaked PRISM program marks one of the most pivotal points in this grotesque series of events and almost burlesque infringement of people’s basic civil rights and right to privacy – and this time it’s the turn of the United States’ National Security Agency (NSA).
In a recent release of documents by former CIA operative-turned-whistleblower Edward Snowden it was discovered that a secretive program known as PRISM could have been operating for as far back as 2008, during Bush’s second term, and renewed under the Obama Administration in December 2012, collecting and analyzing the private and confidential information of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of people.
It should be noted that the law which has allowed for the development of the PRISM program not only grants the U.S. government and its agencies the ability to spy on its own citizens, but it also allows for the targeting of any customers of participating firms who live outside the US, or those Americans whose communications include people outside the US.
So, what exactly is PRISM and how does it operate?
PRISM is a secret government program that was intended to gather a gargantuan body of information “collect[ed] directly from the servers”, on a large segment of the U.S. populace for analysis for reasons of criminal investigations or assessing threats to national security.
The existence of the programme was established following Snowden’s leak of a 41-slide terribly designed Power-Point presentation which would have been used to train the NSA operatives. The program can be so successful in monitoring global internet traffic due to the simple reality that, whether directly or indirectly, the vast majority of that traffic passes by or originates in the United States. This very fact is capitalized in the third slide of the leaked presentation.
Despite the fact that the presentation claims to have the almost complete cooperation of those firms involved in the scandal such as Google and Facebook, such firms have heavily denied any voluntary involvement in the scandal when approached for comments and continued claiming not to possess any knowledge about the PRISM programme.
In any case, perhaps this lack of transparency IS the greatest tragedy of all, as it actually prevents us consumers and “normal” people from knowing to what extent the companies that we rely on for internet services and trust to maintain our privacy are colluding and cooperating with the NSA and other government agencies, and thus prevents customers and consumers from making an informed choice as to how to better protect their online privacy and anonymity. But then again, that’s the whole point of prism, right?
So far, three of the total fourty-one slides of the leaked presentation have been released to the public. One in particular clearly indicated that through Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, Youtube, Skype, AOL and Apple the PRISM programme managed to collect (depending on the individual agreement with the company, but generally including) e-mails, video and voice chat, photos, stored data, VoIP, file transfers, video conferences, activity notifications (log-ins etc.), and online social networking details.
Boldened at the bottom of the slide, however, there is an ominous last bullet point that states “Special Requests”. Whether these “special requests” were acquired with the complicity of the aforementioned companies or not is yet to be determined.
In any case, both companies and government officials insist that the program is lawful and authorized both by Congress as well as the Courts under the FISA amendment act (H.R. 604) which allows for the monitoring of the customers of all companies specified. In addition a particular piece of the legislation, “Section 702“, also makes provisions for “targeting certain persons outside the United Stated other than United States persons” effectively authorizing the government to listen to the phone-calls and read the e-mails of virtually anyone virtually anywhere on the planet.
The only safeguard for such action is the judicial system which, knowing the gross miscarriages of justice and complete inadequacy of the U.S. Justice Department, should leave no person with a fuzzy feeling of safety inside. This is especially so when the NSA has clarified that it asks for warrants against whole groups and organizations, not identified individuals, and as they perhaps identify further individual targets they “attach” them to the original group warrant.
Despite protestations by government officials such as Jeremy Bash, Leon Panetta’s former Chief of Staff at the CIA and his current one as Secretary of Defence, that there is extensive oversight of the judicial process, the fact that these lifetime and tenured federal judges are approved by the same senate that is bought by corporations should not put everyone at ease.
It also effectively concludes the corporate infiltration in all three branches of government, the legislative branch with a bought-and-paid-for Senate and House of Representatives, the Executive branch with a president that was/will be dependent on corporate donations and “quid-pro-quo” actions to ensure his/her political success, and the judicial branch with judges who are ensured highly-paid consultancies and corporate positions or some other aspect of indirect remuneration.
Think of all the innocent civilians whose death by drone hellfire missiles was directly sanctioned by indeed that same congress and those same courts now deciding whether YOU or your children are to be judged as terrorists. The parallel goes even more in-depth when you consider that the vast majority of the targets that had been identified for elimination through drone strikes were, indeed, identified not by military professionals but by civilian for-profit firms.
Simply put – do you think that an American court should decide whether a Dutch (or Indonesia, or whatever other nationality’s) citizen is to be eavesdropped on? Doesn’t this go against any and all pretense of maintaining national sovereignty and the protection of individual privacy rights? Even more scarily, this blank-check measure creates a dangerous precedent as it has perpetuated an already developing culture of extreme state-corporate oppression in which everyone can be considered guilty until proven innocent.
Global American Empire
By granting itself the ability to spy on, hunt down, capture and prosecute or kill anyone on the planet that is perceived (or portrayed) as being an enemy to its national security (which, in essence, is the corporate economic interests), the United Corporate States of America have declared the entire world as their domain and theater of operations, they have effectively declared that they consider the entire world to be under their legal jurisdiction, and will act accordingly, and have reduced the concept of national sovereignty over land and citizens to nothing more than an inconvenient formality. In the words of the beloved (American) TV Series “The Big Bang Theory”: