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PRISM

This evolving story raises many complex technical, legal and ethical questions.   Glenn Greenwald broke the story (a fact which may possibly refract one’s response):

The National Security Agency has obtained direct access to the systems of Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants, according to a top secret document obtained by the Guardian.

The NSA access is part of a previously undisclosed program calledPrism, which allows officials to collect material including search history, the content of emails, file transfers and live chats, the document says.

The Guardian has verified the authenticity of the document, a 41-slide PowerPoint presentation – classified as top secret with no distribution to foreign allies – which was apparently used to train intelligence operatives on the capabilities of the program. The document claims “collection directly from the servers” of major US service providers.

Although the presentation claims the program is run with the assistance of the companies, all those who responded to a Guardian request for comment on Thursday denied knowledge of any such program.

Charles Johnson is inclined to scepticism, noting that “every single one of the companies identified in Greenwald’s original report has now unequivocally denied involvement in PRISM”, and linking to this post at Business Insider.

And now, 24 hours later, after more denials and questions, the Post has made at least two important changes to its spying story.

First, the Post has eliminated the assertion that the technology companies “knowingly” participated in the government spying program.

Second, and more importantly, the Post has hedged its assertion that the companies have granted the government direct access to their servers.

The latter change is subtle, but important. In the first version of its story, the Post stated as a fact that the government had been given direct access to the companies’ servers.

Now, the Post attributes the claim to a government presentation–a document that has been subjected to significant scrutiny and skepticism over the past day and that, in this respect, at least, seems inaccurate.

However Mic Wright, writing in The Telegraph, introduces further room for doubt over the question of the companies (lack of) involvement.

Zuckerberg’s words are reassuring until you consider that any company that receives an order under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act Amendments Act – the legislation the Obama administration is using to justify the broad surveillance – is forbidden from disclosing they have received it or disclosing any information about it.

And whether or not the companies were knowingly complicit in whatever PRISM has been doing is hardly the only issue at stake here. I’m ambivalent about this statement from William Hague:

If you are a law-abiding citizen of this country going about your business and your personal life you have nothing to fear – nothing to fear about the British state or intelligence agencies listening to the contents of your phone calls or anything like that. Indeed you will never be aware of all the things those agencies are doing to stop your identify being stolen and to stop a terrorist blowing you up tomorrow.

Here’s Rosie Bell’s good answer to one of the Normblog profile questions:

What philosophical thesis do you think it most important to disseminate? > That there are incompatible goods – liberty and equality for instance.

Security and privacy is another pairing which could be cited in support of this thesis, as is security and justice.