NSA Backlash: Google, Gun Toters, Pot Smokers Protest
The National Security Agency's headquarters in Fort Meade, Md.
CREDIT: National Security Agency
The U.S. government has kept silent on many critical issues surrounding its controversial PRISM surveillance program. Now, a huge range of digital companies and nonprofit organizations are saying enough's enough.
In June, former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor Edward Snowden leaked seven top-secret documents, all of which detailed a massive surveillance apparatus that the government uses to identify and observe possible criminals.
Like all good government literature, the documents are both long and vague, and detail data-collection procedures in a way that leaves plenty of wiggle room in the case of "accidents," such as collecting data on U.S. citizens.
In other words, the NSA documents that Snowden leaked raise more questions than they answered. It's now been more than a month since Snowden leaked the information, and the U.S. government has yet to clarify or even address the documents.
Now, two groups have decided it's time to turn up the pressure. Both groups aim to increase public knowledge of the NSA's behavior, but they're going about it in very different ways.
Method 1: Petition
A group of tech giants and nonprofits — including Apple, Google, the Human Rights Watch and Wikimedia (the organization behind Wikipedia) — have signed a petition demanding that the U.S. government provide more information about how, when and why it surveils both American citizens and individuals worldwide.
The letter's main demand is for the government to permit media companies to reveal how often the NSA requests private user information from them, whether under the Patriot Act or the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.
"The American people … are entitled to have an informed public debate about the appropriateness of those authorities and their use," the letter states.
The letter is addressed to politicians from both sides of the aisle, including President Barack Obama, Sens. Harry Reid and Mitch McConnell, and Reps. John Boehner and Nancy Pelosi. Officials including Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder are included as well.
"Just as the United States has long been an innovator when it comes to the Internet and products and services that rely upon the Internet, so too should it be an innovator when it comes to creating mechanisms to ensure that government is transparent, accountable and respectful of civil liberties and human rights," the letter states.
Method 2: Class-action lawsuit
On July 16, two days before the aforementioned petition became public, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), which represents a coalition of diverse organizations, announced a class-action lawsuit against the NSA.
The lawsuit specifically targets the NSA's metadata database, one of the vaguest and least understood components of its surveillance apparatus alluded to in one of the leaked documents: Procedures Used by NSA to Target Non-U.S. Persons.
"In order to prevent the inadvertent targeting of a United States person, NSA maintains records of telephone numbers and electronic communications accounts/addresses/identifiers that NSA has reason to believe are being used by United States persons," the documents read.
The NSA is not supposed to surveil the conversations of U.S. citizens. However, the aforementioned statement suggests that in order to determine whether the NSA can target a person for surveillance, the NSA gathers U.S. citizens' account details, telephone numbers and other information referred to as "metadata."
The EFF will be representing an extremely diverse coalition of plaintiffs, including the First Unitarian Church of Los Angeles, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee, several gun-rights groups, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, and Greenpeace.
These two initiatives represent very different responses to the information leaked in the Snowden documents. The petition doesn't necessarily accuse the U.S. government of any wrongdoing; it merely requests increased transparency over government surveillance activities.
The class-action lawsuit, however, accuses the NSA of violating the First, Fourth and Fifth amendments; demands that all metadata records be destroyed; and specifically names Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and Attorney General Eric Holder, among others, as defendants.