Four Corners: NSA Chronicles
Sumeet Singh: Edward Snowden is a former-NSA contractor, meaning he has top-secret access to all the NSA surveillance programs, and he revealed the programs because he believes he is doing a public service. For this reason he considers himself an American hero and is backed by WikiLeaks to promote the First Amendment and highlight the fact that the American government is infringing liberties of its citizens.
Ryan M. Cady: Basically, what he revealed was what everybody sort of already knew –— that the NSA has the capability to record and listen to practically everything.
SS: They have the capability, but we didn’t know they were exercising it to such a massive degree.
RC: Because of Snowden and PRISM we know this was a pre-9/11 thing.
Aliza Asad: And now he is seeking asylum, but should he need to seek asylum?
SS: The President and government justifies it as an executive mandate to prevent terrorist activity in the homeland.
AA: Why does everything have to relate back to terrorism?
RC: There aren’t warring major powers against us anymore, we’re not at war with anyone. We’re fighting the war on terror.
Tess Andrea: And the war on drugs. I think the reason that the government tries to keep such a top secret lock on all of their intel is because the cyber sphere is so open, and you are able to pry into it so easily and that is the biggest cyber terror threat. If you tap into the huge amount of technology we use on a daily basis and get into that then you can create a lot of damage. So in a sense, the government is trying to protect its people, but how much do you trust your transparency with the public?
RC: But doesn’t that totally go both ways?
TA: Well, what I have to wonder is do we feel more safe or less safe now that we know this information?
RC: I’ve never felt safe. Obama has shown a clear lack of respect for privacy issues.
AA: So is it the responsibility of people like Snowden to bring these issues to light? It should be, should it not?
RC: Well there are extenuating circumstances. There is a lot of suspicion that foreign countries were assisting him and getting him to try and do this. I haven’t seen any evidence for this, but these rumors have been floating around. Like it’s weird that Russia is helping him and offering him asylum when Russia basically does this all the time.
TA: Russia just hates us still and is going to do anything they can to make us feel uncomfortable.
AA: The US government hates the fact that Russia is giving asylum to Snowden, and Russia loves the fact that the US government is so mad at them.
SS: What’s scary for the government is that one individual has that much information and that’s the very reason we have the PRISM program so one individual doesn’t have all this information.
AA: So that goes back to the hero and traitor thing.
RC: I mean, I’ve kind of been operating on the assumption that the government has been spying on us the whole time. If this had been revealed and that led to something bad happening, then Snowden would be a traitor. But since this has been revealed all that’s happened is people are getting pissed at the government and the government has done nothing and now people are forgetting all about it.
SS: What if, instead of Snowden, it was The New York Times? There is a journalistic responsibility to reveal that sort of information because that’s what they are supposed to do, but a civilian cannot be so daring.
TA: I have an interesting idea about that. I was thinking, how would it be different if he had taken all the information he knew and wrote a book about it? I don’t think it would have been as crazy of a reaction because not everybody reads books, and I think the government counts on that. Maybe they don’t want the masses to know something because it’s easy when it’s on the news or you see it from social media. But now when it’s published as a book there are a lot of people going to read it, is it going to get a lot of publicity, what’s going to happen from that?
AA: I think it’s one of those things that a lot of people assume, that the government probably is spying on us. But when someone comes out and straight up says it, it becomes a lot more real and that scares the government. So I mean, did he need to say it?
TA: That’s another point. I mean we all read “1984” and how much did we all believe it was happening but we just accepted it.
RC: You bring up “1984,” well, this is downright Orwellian.
TA: So how serious is the threat of cyber-terrorism? Do we feel threatened enough where we need the government to be doing this? Or are they going way past the boundaries by storing all this information by hacking into our stuff. Do we feel that our security is enough of a threat? I don’t think society has come to a consensus yet. There is a dichotomy: some people think it is a dire threat and some don’t know what to think.
SS: There is a conflict of First Amendment and Fourth Amendment with the role of government. As an individual citizen, you want to be preserved as an individual in your own right but you also want the government to operate so it protects your privacy. So the government is doing its job, it’s just not doing it the way you would like it to.
AA: I don’t trust the government to protect my privacy. If anything, I fear cyber-terrorism from my government.
RC: Well that’s the thing, like is PRISM working? Are terrorists being stopped? I don’t know because that information is not released so it’s really weird logic because they say, ‘Trust us, it’s working,’ but we can’t show you.
SS: Well does that justify infringement of your privacy?
RC: Is it worth it to stop acts of terror and completely devalue people’s rights? Is the medicine worse than the cure? When will there come a point where it’s not worth it anymore? Once it’s at that point, will we even have any power to stop it?
TA: I bet corporations and companies who have lots of money and information feel differently than the average citizen.
RC: Let’s go back to the original question –— barring opinions whether what they are doing is good or bad or whatever, was it right of Snowden to tell us this?
AA: I think it’s the medium through which he told that made it so impactful, had he remained anonymous through a newspaper it wouldn’t have blown up as much as it did.
TA: Do you think he was pressured to unveil his anonymity?
SS: I mean, he volunteered and said he was the anonymous source.
TA: Well, why wouldn’t he volunteer his name in the first place instead of coming out as anonymous? That’s just a strange step of events.
RC: There is no propaganda against him from the media which is interesting in and of itself.
TA: Maybe the general public really is on his side and believes he is a hero.
Tess Andrea is a third-year literary journalism and French double major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Aliza Asad is a second-year international studies major. She can be reached at email@example.com.
Ryan M. Cady is a fourth-year Engilsh and psychology double major. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Sumeet Singh is a fourth-year English major. He can be reached at email@example.com.