The Washington Post has analysed the correspondence belonging to 160,000 American citizens passed to them by Edward Snowden. It turns out 90 percent of people who have been eavesdropped and spied on are not criminals, but common citizens.
She was 29 years old. Emotionally unstable after her recent divorce and conversion to Islam. He — three years younger — brought her some tea. “What we did was evil and cursed and may Allah ... MOST merciful forgive us for giving in to our nafs [desires].”
Such emails can be found in the archives of the NSA, an American electronic intelligence agency. The correspondence of a “sinful” lady, containing over 800 pages, was being gathered for many months. Her unfortunate lover, the son of Afghan immigrants in Australia, abandoned her after consummating their relationship to join the Taliban. He flew to Kandahar, in southern Afghanistan, while she continually asked him to come back and marry her.
Their story, stolen from the NSA databases by former analyst of the agency Edward Snowden, shows the dilemmas of the total invigilation conducted by the American agency with other allied Anglo-Saxon services — British, Canadian, Australian and New Zealander — together known as the "five eyes.” As for him — surveillance was sensible. He was really flying to fight in Afghanistan, even though he did not find any Taliban there and eventually went back home. But she was an accidental victim. Her private life was being watched by the American Big Brother.
So far the NSA has been trying to calm things down, claiming that Snowden — who currently lives in Russia, where he hides from the American courts — had stolen only some general analysis. As recently as May, the NSA chief Gen. Keith Alexander claimed that Snowden didn’t have access to any operational materials.
However, this turned out not to be true; as an NSA member unofficially admitted, the agency has no idea what Snowden really stole. In fact, during the first year after his escape, the rebellious analyst was only sending the press some general analysis — for example, showing that millions of phones of U.S. citizens are being monitored and that the flow of data from the Internet all over the world is being captured by the NSA. But during this spring, Snowden sent 160,000 emails, chats, etc. taken from NSA databases to The Washington Post.
The Washington Post has been analyzing that material for four months, and published the results yesterday. They are quite predictable. It turns out that 90 percent of the people watched by the NSA are common citizens, observed by mistake or because they had relationships with someone under actual NSA observation — such as the already mentioned “sinful” Australian.
What is more surprising, the illegitimate storing of the correspondence of thousands of American citizens is against the U.S. Constitution. That is why the NSA does not have the same freedom of surveillance in the United States as it has overseas (e.g. phone calls of American citizens are not recorded, only the fact of a phone call as well as time and location of speakers are noted down).
What is more, thousands of private pictures can be found in the NSA databases— of infants, undressed men and women, etc. There is also other private information — physical examination results and documentations of infidelity. It is surprising because gathering such information with traditional methods is forbidden in America. For example, even though the FBI has a warrant for a phone wire of a suspected person, the agents must stop listening when they hear the voice of a wife or a child of the suspect.
“Even if one could conceivably justify the initial, inadvertent interception of baby pictures and love letters of innocent bystanders, their continued storage in government databases is both troubling and dangerous. Who knows how that information will be used in the future?” said Snowden.
The Washington Post admits that from raw data passed to them by Snowden a conclusion can be drawn that a total invigilation is sometimes useful — the Internet surveillance has led to the catching of the constructor of bombs from Pakistan, or one of the assassins on the island of Bali (where tens of tourists died in a 2002 bombing, including a Gazeta Wyborcza journalist, Beata Pawlak). Thanks to the Internet, American intelligence has also found a top secret nuclear project somewhere overseas — but in this case, The Washington Post does not give any details due to national defense protection issues.
The question now arises: Is it worth it to violate the privacy of thousands or even millions of people for a couple of real threats found? It is not worth it, according to Snowden. However, according to Obama’s government, it is.
The total surveillance will continue, but as the president announced, some restrictions will be introduced at the beginning of next year. American intelligence will not spy on the leaders of allied countries anymore (e.g. the phone of Angela Merkel was being eavesdropped for years) and the details of phone calls of millions of Americans will no longer be stored in governmental databases. The operators, or some private third-party institution will do it instead. The data will be passed to the government only on the grounds of an official warrant from a court.
Edited by Robert O’Connor