The period of American history that we live in today is commonly referred to as the “post 9/11” period due to the September 11 attacks in 2001. Often characterized by a heightened sense of suspicion among the American people, a hawkish American foreign policy and last but not least, a rise in surveillance for the increased the security of the state. It’s been known for some time that the National Security Agency (NSA) has been involved in warrantless intelligence gathering both foreign and domestic, and on citizens and non-citizens alike. However, the magnitude in which the NSA gathers information through the recently revealed PRISM is unprecedented through the requirement of communications and internet companies to hand over raw data of its consumers. Although the PRISM program “cannot intentionally” target any US persons (meaning both citizens and residents alike), the fact that is has the potential to target US persons, and its secretive process to carry out surveillance is a major ethical dilemma in the sense that it violates the principles of an open, liberal-democratic society in which the United States was founded upon. This paper is not to argue that surveillance must totally be disassembled, for that would mean security would be at risk in a global era that is interconnected through near instant means of communication. But instead, it is to argue that because of the extent in which the government runs its surveillance, the social and political landscape of the United States is being inhibited due to the fear of government intrusion.
PRISM is the name of the surveillance program utilized by the NSA to collect massive amounts of data from companies such as Google, Yahoo, Microsoft and other internet giants to hand over data under Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA), and phone records from companies such as AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint under Section 215 of the Patriot Act. Although initiated in 2007, PRISM was kept secret until in June 2013 when former NSA contractor Edward Snowden leaked a 41 power point slide to The Washington Post and The Guardian and has ultimately fled to Russia to seek political asylum.
To go in-depth, Section 702 provides the government legal basis to conduct surveillance through PRISM for the purpose of acquiring foreign intelligence on non-US persons “reasonably believed” to be outside the borders of the United States. This was reconfirmed by a released statement by the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper stating, “Section 702 cannot be used to intentionally target an US citizen, or any other US person, or to intentionally target any person known to be in the United States.” Section 702 goes on stating that the government must maintain “minimization procedures” to prevent the accidental collection of data pertaining to US persons.
The statement goes on further stating that “Section 702 cannot be used to target a person outside the United States if the purpose is to acquire...