NSA Prism Program – Helpful or Hurtful?

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Since the Prism program has become public, we’ve heard from both sides – both for and against. I’m not going to try to convince you either way, both sides have valid points.
I will say I may have been swayed to support the Intel community, but with this administration…now I’m not so sure. I will admit, there’s a fine line between privacy and counter-terrorism.

First let me explain what PRISM is and what it’s supposed to do.

NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program called Prism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says. More specifically, it’s a data mining program.

The Guardian UK has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims “collection directly from the servers” of major US service providers such as Microsoft, Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet providers.

Unlike the collection of the Verizon call records, this surveillance can include the content of communications and not just the meta data,(meta data is technical information about communications traffic and network devices) although members of the Intelligence community state that only meta data is being collected. If this is true, it would be the first time President Obama was honest about anything – ever.

Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian UK request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.

 The ACLU’s Mr. Jaffer had this to say about PRISM: “The stories published over the last two days make clear that the NSA now has direct access to every corner of Americans’ digital lives. Unchecked government surveillance presents a grave threat to democratic freedoms.” 
As far as oversight, a former member of the Intelligence Community has stated that PRISM is overseen by congress and FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act).

Now let’s take a look at the other side of the coin…

The crucial point is here, from the Director of National Intelligence:

Section 702 is a provision of FISA that is designed to facilitate the acquisition of foreign intelligence information concerning non-U.S. persons located outside the United States. It cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen, any other U.S. person, or anyone located within the United States.

The information, the data, may be in the US as a result of the global spread of the internet and the physical location of servers. But the information cannot be about either a US citizen or someone who is in the US. And, if we’re prepared to be honest about matters, we do actually want the government to be keeping an eye on foreigners in foreign lands. Which is what they’re doing.

Has the program actually thwarted a terrorist attack? 

Nobody knows. The US government has said that the monitoring schemes it runs are necessary to defend against terrorist threats. But it hasn’t cited any threats that were thwarted – unsurprising, given that the program has only just become public. One member of the intelligence community has stated that they have used collected information to stop a planned attack, but because of security reasons he could not elaborate.According to John Arquilla, writer for National Security at foreignpolicy.com:

“The tantalizing prospect of PRISM, and of the whole “finding effort,” is to deny the terrorists the virtual haven that they enjoy throughout the world’s telecommunications spaces — indeed, throughout the whole of the “infosphere,” which includes cyberspace. The piercing of this veil would mark a true turning point in the war on terror, for al Qaeda and other networks simply cannot function with any kind of cohesion, or at any sort of reasonable operational tempo if their communications become insecure. Cells and nodes would be ripped up, operatives killed or captured, and each loss would no doubt yield information that imperiled the network further. Even if al Qaeda resorted to the drastic measure of moving messages, training, and financial information by courier, operations would be so slowed as to cripple the organization. And even couriers can be flagged on “no fly” lists or caught boarding tramp steamers and such. So for all the furor caused by the PRISM revelations, my simple recommendation is to take a deep breath before crying out in protest. Think first about how the hider/finder dynamic in the war on terror has driven those responsible for our security to bring to bear the big guns of big data on the problem at hand. Think also about whether a willingness to allow some incursions into our privacy might lead to an improved ability to provide for our security, and where that equilibrium point between privacy and security might be. And last, think about the world as it might be without such a sustained effort to find the hidden — to detect, track, and disrupt the terrorists. That would be a world in which they stay on their feet and fighting, and in which they remain secure enough, for long enough, to acquire true weapons of mass destruction. Those of us in the national security business, who know that networks so armed will be far harder to deter than nations ever were, believe that big data approaches like PRISM and its forebears, have been and remain essential elements in the unrelenting and increasingly urgent effort to find the hidden.”

I’ll admit, I’m sitting on the fence on this one – for now- at least until I get more facts..

What do you think? Is our government over reaching again or is this program necessary to keep us safe from further planned terrorist attacks? I’d really like to hear your opinions.

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2 Comments

Filed under Current Events, Government, Media, NSA, Politics, Terrorism

2 responses to “NSA Prism Program – Helpful or Hurtful?

  1. Anonymous

    Programs such as this renders every citizen guilty first. In that way, no legal citizen, not charged of any crime, is no different than the criminal. We have been warned and warned and warned again of this kind of tyranny yet here it is and some “sit on the fence” or are even proponents.

    I applaud your use of reason to shackle over-wrought emotions but the beginning and the end is we are supposed to live in a free society. Under the type of law we have, only that which is expressly forbidden are we not free to do. (I’m not talking of moral or ethical constraints)

    This program is a terrible way, nay a travesty, in which govt goes about to “serve” us. Here I am talking of liberty. The govt is way out of bounds.

  2. Anonymous,
    I completely understand where you’re coming from. I’m a die hard believer in our Constitution and I also believe in peace through strength. I just want to clarify that when I said I was “sitting on the fence” I didn’t mean I was being ambivalent, I just didn’t have enough information at the time to make an informed decision – especially not publicly. We had very little information about Snowden,and too many questions about him. We didn’t know and still don’t know what kind of information the NSA or PRISM was collecting or how widespread, etc… Like I said before, there’s a fine line between privacy and counter terrorism. It’s starting to look like that line was crossed.

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