A roar of outrage and shock broke out amongst the people of the world as it was discovered that the United States has been spying and invading the privacy of many of its citizens, under the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA is an intelligence agency responsible for global monitoring, collection, decoding, translation and analysis of information and data for foreign intelligence and counterintelligence purposes.

Whistleblower Edward Snowden, a government contractor who worked at the NSA, has a known history of revealing US information and is currently under asylum in Russia for his so called “treason”. Many have branded him a hero; others a traitor, but what were Snowden’s intentions when he gained access to what might be the most valued information to land into public hands? Was he trying to be the American James Bond? Or was he simply seeking revenge against the United States? Snowden reveals that he leaked the information to expose abuse and protect the public, not to cause damage. Some think he gave an advantage to our enemies, others say he sacrificed himself to expose government snooping. His leak has sparked a mix of disapproval and praise.

Programmes such as PRISM can be used to monitor private web data, but it cannot be used to intentionally target any U.S. citizen. However, analysts need to only be at least 51 percent confident the exchange they’re monitoring is foreign to access the information. This goes for the NSA too, which has meant that the US has access to Microsoft, Yahoo, AOL, Facebook, Google, Apple, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype etc. While many of us think having a lengthy password keeps what we hold in these social networking sites safe, the US has proven us otherwise.

So why is Edward Snowden considered a hero? Should the people of America and those around the world have a right to privacy? The CNN stated “he realized humanity was being compromised by the blind implementation of machines in the name of making us safe”. Another question which hangs in the air, what are the US using this information for? If it is for good, why were we unaware of the depth of the surveillance of the NSA?

Those who call him a traitor argue that he broke an oath of secrecy (that he took willingly) and he broke the law by disclosing government secrets. But did the government not break a part of its Constitution when it chose to invade the privacy of its citizens, abuse that information and decide to keep it a secret. What did the US government have to say in defence of the NSA? What did Barack Obama have to say to these accusations? Obama says he put strict protocols in place that require judicial review and a warrant for all PRISM targets. “They said they are not listening to your conversations or reading emails, they’re simply identifying phone numbers that could be connected to terrorists”. In a poll, 56 percent said the NSA’s tracking of Americans’ phone calls to investigate terrorism is acceptable.  But although the government and those in favour of the NSA strike up a good argument for the surveillance of the people to be monitored, if it was for pure good then the citizens would be informed… yet they were left in the dark, which does not seem like wholly good intentions.

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