Driven by data; ridden with liberty.
A major consequence of the 9/11 terrorist attacks is the acquiescence to security initiatives in our lives. American citizens and visitors are ‘patted down’ – or occasionally molested – by TSA agents, whilst some countries use X-ray scanners to produce ghostly nude images of plane passengers. These scanners have been replaced at Manchester Airport, but their use signified that opposed to the deadly face of terrorism, a good citizen should take off their clothes. The existence of gargantuan online data collection programs would be unsurprising.
According to the Guardian and the Washington Post, the United States National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Internet titans such as Google, Facebook and Apple. Code-named PRISM, the program instigates a tumbling tsunami of personal information, including e-mails, voice chats, photos, files transfers, video conferences and online social networking details. George W. Bush’s warrantless surveillance program was vanquished in 2007 by media exposure and lawsuits, and PRISM rose from the Protect America Act 2007 and the FISA Amendments Act 2008. These Acts immunised private companies who willingly co-operated with intelligence collection by the NSA. The Washington Post claims that Microsoft was the first large company to volunteer information for this new program. A court order required Verizon to submit the transactional details of all telephone calls on an “on-going, daily basis”. Previously, the agency had to demonstrate reasonable suspicion that particular targets were connected with terrorism or espionage, but are now only periodically checked that warrantless data collection is minimised.
All seven companies named in the PRISM documents have issued potent denials of any involvement. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg decried the “outrageous press reports”, and Google CEO Larry Page has stated that “we have not joined any program that would give the US government – or any other government – direct access to our servers”. Verizon and AT&T simply said: “We have no comment.”
GCHQ, which works in concert with MI5 and MI6, may have access to PRISM’s data stores. The British debate around security, privacy and liberty was focussed upon the resurrected Communications Data Bill: originally slain by Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg and the Liberal Democrats, it retains broad support in the two largest parties – Conservatives and Labour. That Bill necessitates collection of transactional data, but not the message’s content. The two newspapers allege PRISM does collect communication content, which if true, means any GCHQ participation would pierce present authorisations by Parliament.
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
The United States form of governance is an aspiration – but it is one being sorely unattained.