By Leslie Fain
The U.S. government is collecting data to use as a “currency of power” and the recent leak by Edward Snowden about the National Security Agency is just the tip of the iceberg, according to a leading government accountability activist.
“The NSA wants to collect data on all U.S. persons,” said Jesselyn Radack, national security and human rights director for Government Accountability Project (GAP). “Information is the currency of power.”
“They are acting as a totalitarian state,” continued Radack. “This is totally unacceptable.”
According to its website, GAP’s mission is to promote corporate and government accountability by protecting whistleblowers, advancing occupational free speech, and empowering citizen activists. It is a non-profit, nonpartisan public interest group.
Radack, who is an attorney representing whistleblowers, added, “My four NSA clients have been warning about this for three years and no one paid attention. There are other programs besides PRISM. I do think there is more to come.”
People need to think about what the government might have on them, and think hard about whether that is right, said Radack.
The NSA surveillance issue is one of the few out there where conservatives, liberals, progressives and libertarians can find common ground.
“[We’re] strange bedfellows, but that is one of the advantages of it,” she said.
On the Hill, Republicans and Democrats are working together to protect citizens from government surveillance.
“We’re very active on this issue,” said Will Adams, deputy chief of staff for Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich. Amash is among the congressmen working with Democratic Rep. John Conyers to write a broad bill that will limit the NSA’s ability to spy on Americans, according to Adams.
In addition, Adams said they are involved in litigation against the government, including an amicus brief with the ACLU, and are considering joining other congressmen, who are Verizon customers, in suing the government directly.
One of the big challenges, according to Adams, is that members of Congress have a tough time debating the issue when they have not been made privy to the administration and FISA court’s reading of the law. Only members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees have access to the FISA court’s decisions. Adams said this type of information should be opened up to everyone.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators, including Sens. Ron Wyden, D-Ore.; Mike Lee, R-Utah; Dean Heller, R-Nev.; and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., introduced a bill that would declassify FISA court opinions.
PRISM was described in an article in The Guardian as a program “which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails” and more through “direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other U.S. Internet giants,” according to top secret documents obtained by the publication.
Larry Page, co-founder of Google, and Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg both denied knowledge of PRISM. However there seems to be no expression of surprise or indignation from these companies.
“It seems impossible for them not to know,” said Radack. “Google did make a Freedom of Information Act request, which would imply they didn’t know, which would make this even creepier.”
Dave Maass, media relations coordinator for The Electronic Frontier Foundation, agreed that there is reason to believe the CEOs.
“[I]n many if not most cases, they’re simply forbidden by law to talk about national security requests,” he said. “It’s possible, for example, that only certain individuals within a company are authorized to know about a spying program, keeping the rest in the dark. We have, however, noted the careful language some of the companies are using that could leave room for wiggle room.”
Just how damaging is the information Snowden released?
“I don’t think it is damaging,” said Radack. “Terrorists already know they are surveilled eight ways to Sunday. It’s damaging to the administration.”
Radack said there are many possible dangerous consequences that could occur as a result of the government having this information.
“All it takes is for one person to decide they don’t like someone, and dig down on a person’s data,” she said.
In addition, there is the danger that foreign hackers could access the information of U.S. citizens.
The situation is serious, but not hopeless, according to Radick: “Call members of Congress and tell them, ‘I don’t want my personal data to be surveilled by my country.'”
“Public opinion matters to public officials,” added Adams.
Leslie Fain is a contributing writer to WND. A former public relations writer, she has also contributed to Catholic World Report and Human Life Review. She currently lives in the South with her husband and three sons.