Edward Snowden And NSA’s Unethical Practices

We are living in an era that is constantly in motion. The way we interact with others, our community, and the world; has evolved drastically over the past few decades, and will continue to evolve over the decades to come. The way we interact with each other has transitioned into a new medium, particularly through the use of technology by which we can communicate digitally, and through the phone. This has become ever so more apparent during the COVID-19 outbreak where we are cautioned to follow social distancing, further severing our traditional modes of communication in favor of ones that require the use of the internet or a network.

Yet, the rise in technology’s role in our lives presents a new threat. The government, particularly the NSA (National Security Agency), can utilize our communications to address both real, and fake enemies. This poses an extremely terrifying threat to the liberties and rights of everyday American citizens. As noted in Citizenfour, the NSA is using their position of authority to intercept billions of U.S communications. Furthermore, the documentary notes that the NSA’s ever-expanding role in spying activities has become even further operationalized under President Obama, who passed presidential policy directive 20, which was only later exposed by Edward Snowden. More recently, under President Trump, the policy may be scrapped in favor of giving individuals departments more autonomy in carrying out cyberattacks against perceived enemies (Politico). But, instead of addressing the root problem of citizen infringements, this new approach only serves to further perpetuate citizen surveillance on multiple levels.

The NSA has been caught clearly overstepping its authority on multiple occasions, infringing on the personal space of everyday Americans. Citizenfour showcases Snowden exposing multiple of these initiatives. The first leak outlined was how millions of phone records from Verizon were ordered by the NSA. A second groundbreaking leak was how the NSA was able to effectively tap key internet firms like Google, Yahoo, Apple, and Youtube; by which they would extract key identifying pieces of information like what one was emailing, searching, photos, and videos. This issue is compounded, as the NSA can draw links between people, links which may actually have no real basis. Yet, the fact that two individuals happened to be in the same place, shared some mutual friends, or simply shared overlapping interests; can be manipulated to fabricate a claim against an otherwise innocent person.

Edward Snowden, the whistleblower who confirmed the rumors surrounding the NSA’s unethical practices, exposed his former employer in 2013. Citizenfour depicts the dramatic manner in which Snowden sought shelter in Hong Kong, in order to save himself following the revelations. Snowden should be considered an upholder of American freedoms for his actions, as they brought to light the NSA’s operations which would’ve otherwise gone unchecked. This is touched upon in Debate Wise, where the fundamental role of government is challenged. Our government exists with the goal of upholding our freedom of speech and liberty. Actions that circumvent this right of Americans, in essence, undermine the institution of government. Furthermore, it is enshrined in our constitution that American citizens have protections from search and seizure. The illegal data mining by the NSA is a clear cut definition of searching an individual without permission. Furthermore, the NSA has exploited the trust of everyday Americans through companies. Instead of directly engaging the American public, gaining their permission, or even being upfront about their activities, the NSA has resorted to forcing internet and phone providers to fork over data. This is part of a bigger problem of lack of accountability. Whereas the American public is accountable to the government, who is there to take account of the NSA? Though many may single out Edward Snowden as an enemy of the state for his whistleblower activities, he is reported to have raised multiple alarms with his supervisors during his tenure as a cybersecurity analyst. It was only their lack of action and inability to address his concerns, which forced him to take the drastic measures that he did. The issue of no accountability is shown in Citizenfour, wherein the heads of NSA are called in for testimony in Congress; and while under oath, are seen repeating lie after lie. In a nation that prides itself on checks and balances to prevent autocracy over citizens, this is a clear misuse of power. Even worse, the NSA did not face any major repercussions for their actions after Snowden’s papers leaked. Lastly, the lack of protection for a whistleblower shows an inherently unfair system, where the NSA can get away with stealing information, but individuals like Snowden live the rest of their life in fear.

Our relationship with technology has and will continue to evolve. But, so too, will the ever-expanding power and reach of the NSA in our lives. As we navigate the role of the NSA over the past two decades and look towards their role in the years to come, we must recognize that a lack of checks and balances has allowed them unprecedented access to otherwise private data. This is an infringement on the freedoms of American Citizens, and whistleblowers like Edward Snowden stand to blunt their reach while also informing us of how protected, private information actually is.

Works Cited

  • Geller, Eric, and Jason Schwartz. “Trump Scraps Obama Rules on Cyberattacks, Giving Military Freer Hand.” POLITICO, 16 Aug. 2018, www.politico.com/story/2018/08/16/trump-cybersecurity-cyberattack-hacking-military-742095.
  • Poitras, Laura, director. Citizenfour. Citizenfour, HBO Films, 2014, citizenfourfilm.com.
  • “Privacy and Freedom Is More Important Than Security.” DebateWise, debatewise.org/debates/3040-privacy-vs-security/. 
16 December 2021
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