The news story of 2013 with the greatest potential impact on American history is clearly the revelations of elaborate domestic spying on Americans’ communications by the National Security Agency (NSA). The NSA is the “signals intelligence” agency of the U.S. government—the largest and most secretive of all the nation’s intelligence agencies. The story began in June with the leak of documents by Edward Snowden, a former contractor with the NSA, that detailed how the agency was data-mining the phone records of millions of Americans. The Guardian and the Washington Post published stories exposing the web of surveillance cast by the NSA in its pursuit of information to combat terrorist networks and disrupt plots for terrorist attacks. The cloak-and-dagger pursuit of Snowden across the globe that ended in his gaining political asylum in Russia was only a minor subplot.
The story kept growing as the full extent of the surveillance came to light—not just phone metadata but e-mails and Internet search records were being gleaned from the servers of many of the top tech firms in the United States. On top of that came the revelation that this spying effort was not only directed at millions of law-abiding Americans but many high-level government officials of foreign allies as well. Angela Merkel, chancellor of Germany, called the alleged surveillance an “unprecedented breach of trust.” The outraged president of Brazil, Dilma Rousseff, denounced the U.S. policy before the United Nations as a “breach of international law.” The revelation that the NSA was spying on American allies thus is having negative repercussions for the conduct of U.S. foreign policy.
It was Snowden’s avowed goal to foster a debate about the role of high-tech surveillance in a constitutional democracy that values individual freedom from intrusive government. In that he has succeeded. Legal challenges to the NSA program’s constitutionality are likely to reach the Supreme Court soon.
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- The NSA Files
This “Essential guide” in the British media outlet the Guardian—itself a player in the story—provides a detailed account of how NSA surveillance the program became public knowledge.
(Source: The Guardian; accessed January 3, 2014)
- The Metadata Program in Eleven Documents
This blog post provides actual primary source documents and a brief analysis of the “Metadata” program based on them.
(Source: The New Yorker, December 31, 2013)
- Would NSA Surveillance Have Stopped 9/11 Plot?
This opinion piece answers a key question at the heart of the controversy over the NSA’s massive program of surveillance—with a qualified No.
(Source: CNN.com, December 30, 2013)
- Unjustified Hysteria over the NSA Surveillance Program
This editorial refocuses attention on the goals of counterterrorism policy and offers qualified support for the NSA surveillance program.
(Source: Seattle Times, August 5, 2013)
- NSA Monitored Calls of 35 World Leaders after US Official Handed Over Contacts
This article exposes the web of surveillance that the NSA cast over the phone calls of foreign leaders—which threatens to undermine U.S. relations with its allies.
(Source: Guardian, October 24, 2013)
- Judge Rules NSA Phone Tracking Legal
Read about the latest development in the courts regarding the legality and constitutionality of the NSA’s tracking of Americans’ phone-call records.
(Source: Politico.com, December 27, 2013)
- A Movement to Bake Online Privacy into Modern Life, “By Design”
This interesting interview with an expert on data encryption outlines how the gathering of bulk communications for national security or law-enforcement purposes could be accomplished without compromising privacy.
(Source: NPR, December 13, 2013)
- Top 10 U.S. News Stories
This Time magazine Top 10 list puts the NSA/Snowden leaks story as the #1 news story of the year, period; the Boston Marathon bombing is at #2, and Obamacare’s problematic launch #3.
(Source: Time.com, December 4, 2013)