Live and Let Spy? PRISM, Privacy and National Protection

In Online privacyby Marius Badenhorst

watching-youTop-secret documents, covert Government surveillance, a whistle-blower on the run – it sounds like the plot for James Bond’s next big-screen adventure, yet the dashing Daniel Craig is nowhere in sight and the drama and danger is in fact very, very real. I’m talking, of course, about the news story that’s topping everyone’s Google News feed right now; the unfolding saga of PRISM and Edward Snowden.

For Your Eyes Only

With the vast number of emails, chats, video conferences, voice communications and social media interactions that make up our daily lives, we all leave our own “footprints” in the online realm and of course, most of us take great care to protect the privacy of these communications, be they business-related or personal matters. (That is, unless you’re this guy, but that’s a whole other story.)

The Story So Far…

Snowden’s story really does read like a spy thriller; the 29-year-old technical contractor was working for the NSA in Hawaii, and was granted leave in May, citing medical reasons. As soon as his leave was granted, Snowden promptly packed his bags and flew to Hong Kong, but not before leaking a number of secret documents from his work on PRISM, a national security program created by the US Government with the aim of identifying terrorists. PRISM has the ability to access emails, chats, videos, photos, logins – basically every form of modern-day communication. Snowden decided to make the matter public as he was “horrified” by this excessive surveillance of the American public.

edward-snowdenSnowden is currently seeking political asylum and his fate is undecided; however it appears the surveillance program will continue to operate despite the resulting public outcry. The matter has naturally raised numerous questions about data protection and online privacy. There is a growing feeling of being watched in the style of George Orwell’s Big Brother, and Secretary of State William Hague’s assurance that law-abiding citizens have nothing to fear has done little to assuage the widespread feeling of violation.

Heroes and Villains

“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things” says Snowden, who revealed himself to be the PRISM whistle-blower on June 10th. “I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded”.

Do you think online surveillance is a small price to pay to keep national security standards high? Or do you agree with Edward Snowden? Is he a criminal, a martyr, or somewhere between the two? One thing’s for sure, the PRISM saga has left us all shaken and stirred – watch this space for more developments.

About the Author

Marius Badenhorst