NSA's Prism operation: How do we balance security and privacy?

By Tao Duanfang
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China.org.cn, June 13, 2013
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Recent reports show that American intelligence agencies are monitoring the phone records and data of millions via some of Silicon Valley's largest smart phone and Internet operations. The NSA-sponsored operation, known as Prism, enables in-depth surveillance of both live communications and stored information. Details about the classified program were leaked to the press last week by Edward Snowden, 29, a former technical contractor and CIA employee.

[File photo]

Snowden's (certainly illegal) revelation has outraged citizens and politicians alike. Lawmakers who initially authorized NSA intelligence gathering operations now claim that they were unaware of the extent of the programs and say that such widespread data collection was never their intention.

The public's outrage, of course, is easy to understand. What could be more disconcerting than the discovery that the bits and bytes of one's private life have been, at the least, tracked, and, at worst, scrutinized? The Fourth Amendment suddenly seemed like a meaningless scrap of paper, an antique, powerless against digital forces. Equally upsetting was the fact that, after the program was leaked, the White House seemed more concerned about damage to national security than damage to citizens' privacy.

Obama has criticized "leaks" and "hype" in the media and has refused to apologize for the eavesdropping. He said the program "was worth us doing" and argued that one cannot have both 100 percent security and 100 percent personal privacy. Instead, Obama said, the two must be balanced.

That security and privacy must be balanced is clear to everyone. What isn't clear is just what the balance should be. How much lost privacy is worth how much heightened security? Who gets to make that decision? And, if the government and intelligence departments are allowed to make those decisions without transparency or oversight, who's to say they won't cross the line?

These questions will be weighing heavily on American minds as midterm elections approach. One imagines that those who hope to remain in power would do well to challenge Prism directly.

The author is a researcher with the Far &Wide Journal.

This article was first published in Chinese and translated by Li Huiru.

Opinion articles reflect the views of their authors, not necessarily those of China.org.cn.

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