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Debate rages over revelation of NSA spying secrets

Ellen Messmer | June 11, 2013
In hiding in Hong Kong, leaker decries U.S. "surveillance state"

Debate continues to rage today over the bombshell revelations that the National Security Agency collects intelligence on individuals via telecommunications and social-networking sites. The uproar has the U.S. government and private companies admitting to some aspects of the surveillance, while vehemently denying others. A former CIA agent working for Booz Allen Hamilton has revealed himself as the leaker.

The reports from various mainstream media sources alleged that the NSA works with Verizon, AT&T, Sprint and T-Mobile to collect and amass "meta-data" related to phone calls, though not the actual phone calls. In addition, through a system called PRISM, the NSA is able to obtain e-mail, chat, video, photos stored data, VoIP, file transfer and other material from Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, Facebook, PalTalk, YouTube, Skype, AOL and Apple, according to reports.

But one aspect of the argument centers on whether the NSA actually has direct access to these vendors' servers. Washington Post reporter Barton Gellman first reported the NSA had direct server-based access and continued to insist yesterday this is accurate. He suggested these companies often have their own reasons to want to gain favor with the government.

However, the companies involved with the NSA intelligence-gathering effort -- which they are required to do under the Patriot Act passed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks -- are rejecting any notion that the NSA is doing this collection directly inside their corporate servers. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg and Google CEO Larry Page each vehemently rejected the contention.

Meanwhile, Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former undercover employee at the CIA now employed by Booz Allen Hamilton, admitted being the source of the leaks. He says the NSA data collection constitutes "wrongdoing contrary to the public interest" and people can now decide if they're "willing to sacrifice their privacy to the surveillance state." Snowden is reportedly in hiding in Hong Kong.

Richard Stiennon, chief research analyst at consultancy IT-Harvest, says the leaks are bad news for companies such as Microsoft and Google that have been compelled to work with the NSA. Not only are governments outside the U.S., such as Germany, urging the U.S. to re-think its policies, individuals are feeling disenchanted with these service providers due to the NSA surveillance. And Stiennon says it's evident that businesses around the world will take such surveillance in account when considering whether use the services offered by such U.S. vendors.

The U.S. Director of National Intelligence James Clapper -- who appeared on television saying he finds the leaks flooding the media about how the secretive NSA works to be a "gut-wrenching" experience -- also provided the Wall Street Journal with a document entitled "Facts on the Collection of Intelligence Pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act" which the paper made available publicly.


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