By Jedidiah Bracy, CIPP/US, CIPP/E

Whistleblower Comes to Light, U.S. Gov’t Defends Its Programs
More news about the leaking of top secret surveillance programs conducted by the National Security Agency came to light over the weekend with The Guardian’s video interview of former technical assistant for the Central Intelligence Agency Edward Snowden. In it, Snowden discusses the reasoning for leaking the NSA intelligence. “I don’t want to live in a society that does these sorts of things,” he noted. 

On Friday, President Barack Obama spoke about the disclosures, saying the surveillance programs are legal and limited. He added, “It’s important to understand that you can’t have 100-percent security and then have 100-percent privacy and zero inconvenience—we’re going to have to make some choices as a society.”

The Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued a statement on Saturday. In it, National Intelligence Director James R. Clapper backed President Obama’s assertion that the programs are legal with proper oversight. “Over the last week we have seen reckless disclosures of intelligence community measures used to keep Americans safe,” Clapper wrote. “In a rush to publish, media outlets have not given the full context—including the extent to which these programs are overseen by all three branches of government—to these effective tools.”

Additionally, to bolster its claims, the DNI released a fact sheet “on the Collection of Intelligence Pursuant to Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act.” Andrea Mitchell, of NBC News, interviewed Clapper on Sunday to discuss the programs and the impact of the leaks on national security.

According to a Pew Research Center Associate Director Carroll Doherty, “There’s a lot of opposition to the specific surveillance tactics, but in general, the balance of opinion is in favor of protection from terrorism, even at the expense of civil liberties.”

The New Republic discusses the relevant authorities within these disclosures, and The Wall Street Journal reports on the potential for Congress to revisit privacy rules in light of these programs. “Congress could strengthen the controls on the NSA program if it wished. Until this past week's disclosures of the NSA program and other secret efforts, lawmakers showed little interest in tying the hands of the executive branch, but the climate may be changing as privacy concerns catch up with terrorism fears,” the report states.

Nations Around the World React

According to American Public Media, the NSA surveillance debate could threaten the EU-U.S. free trade negotiations.

The New York Times and Financial Times both report on Europe’s reaction to the news. In the Financial Times report, EU Justice Commissioner Viviane Reding said the incident “shows that a clear legal framework for the protection of personal data is not a luxury or constraint but a fundamental right.” And EU Home Affairs Commissioner Cecilia Malmström said, “we are of course concerned for the possible consequences on EU citizens’ privacy.”

The UK’s Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) issued an official statement in response to the disclosures on Friday. “There are real issues about the extent to which U.S. law enforcement agencies can access personal data of UK and other European citizens,” an ICO spokesman said. “Aspects of U.S. law under which companies can be compelled to provide information to U.S. agencies potentially conflict with European data protection law, including the UK’s own Data Protection Act.”

The ICO also said it “has raised this with its European counterparts, and the issue is being considered by the European Commission, who are in discussions with the U.S. government.”

However, UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said electronic surveillance conducted by its security agency is legal. There have been reports that U.S. officials have shared information gathered from NSA initiatives with the UK government. Hague would not confirm or deny his office received intelligence from U.S. authorities, Reuters reports.

German Data Protection Commissioner Peter Schaar told GigaOm in a written statement that the “U.S. administration must now provide clarification…Given the large number of German users of Google, Facebook, Apple or Microsoft services, I expect the German government…is committed to clarification and limitation of surveillance. In addition, the reports illustrate the importance of strengthening the European data protection law.”

In a Q&A with Deutche Welle, Schleswig-Holstein Data Protection Commissioner Thilo Weichert also expressed concerns about the U.S. intelligence programs.

According to Straight.com, thus far, Canadian data protection officials have not issued any statements about the NSA programs. And a Sydney Morning Herald report delves into reactions from Australian and New Zealand.

Business Reputations and Online Behavioral Advertising

The Washington Post assesses whether the disclosures will damage the online business cited in the programs. The companies have denied they have let the government access their internal servers, “but the fallout from the revelation of PRISM—regardless of whether the companies knew about the program—takes some of the shine off of these firms’ reputations,” the report states.

USA TODAY questions whether the news could impact online behavioral advertising for private firms. “Should the wide exposure of the government's Internet and telephone records data mining projects prompt a similar reaction among the general public, the tech giants that generate and store this data very well might be compelled to adjust their business models, going forward,” the article states.

One expert notes that the recent reports prompt an even greater need to utilize privacy enhancing technologies

Privacy Experts and Advocates React

World Wide Web inventor Timothy Berners-Lee has said he is “deeply concerned” about online privacy in light of the NSA programs. "I call on all web users to demand better legal protection and due process safeguards for the privacy of their online communications,” he said, “including their right to be informed when someone requests or stores their data."

The Center for Democracy & Technology's Leslie Harris writes about the six vital questions raised by NSA surveillance for The Huffington Post.

Prof. Neil Richards and Electronic Privacy Information Center President Marc Rotenberg both provide their insight to the news in this Associate Press report. In this U.S. News & World Report article, privacy advocates note that with the PRISM program, the FBI has no “going dark” argument. In a COMPUTERWORLD column, Jonny Evans opines about why PRISM "kills the cloud."

Peter Eckersley, of the Electronic Frontier Foundation, gives a video interview here for TechCrunch, covering his thoughts on the PRISM denials, fighting FISA and why privacy is important.

A CNN op-ed column argues that privacy is not dead, and Larry Hunter, of the University of Colorado, revisits some of his predictions he made in 1985. In that year, he wrote an essay warning of the power and potential privacy intrusions stemming from the rise in computer use.

Read more by Jedidiah Bracy:
The NSA’s PRISM Program and Reactions
Council of European Union Releases Draft Compromise 
Medine’s Confirmation Moves PCLOB Forward; Questions Remain About Cybersecurity Authority
A Look at the Privacy Consultants of Acxiom


If you want to comment on this post, you need to login.


Board of Directors

See the esteemed group of leaders shaping the future of the IAPP.

Contact Us

Need someone to talk to? We’re here for you.

IAPP Staff

Looking for someone specific? Visit the staff directory.

Learn more about the IAPP»

Daily Dashboard

The day’s top stories from around the world

Privacy Perspectives

Where the real conversations in privacy happen

The Privacy Advisor

Original reporting and feature articles on the latest privacy developments

Privacy Tracker

Alerts and legal analysis of legislative trends

Privacy Tech

Exploring the technology of privacy

Canada Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top Canadian privacy news

Europe Data Protection Digest

A roundup of the top European data protection news

Asia-Pacific Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from the Asia-Pacific region

Latin America Dashboard Digest

A roundup of the top privacy news from Latin America

IAPP Westin Research Center

Original works. Groundbreaking research. Emerging scholars.

Get more News »

Find a KnowledgeNet Chapter Near You

Network and talk privacy at IAPP KnowledgeNet meetings, taking place worldwide.

Women Leading Privacy

Events, volunteer opportunities and more designed to help you give and get career support and expand your network.

IAPP Job Board

Looking for a new challenge, or need to hire your next privacy pro? The IAPP Job Board is the answer.

Join the Privacy List

Have ideas? Need advice? Subscribe to the Privacy List. It’s crowdsourcing, with an exceptional crowd.

Find more ways to Connect »

Find a Privacy Training Class

Two-day privacy training classes are held around the world. See the complete schedule now.

Online Privacy Training

Build your knowledge. The privacy know-how you need is just a click away.

The Training Post—Can’t-Miss Training Updates

Subscribe now to get the latest alerts on training opportunities around the world.

New Web Conferences Added!

See our list of upcoming web conferences. Just log on, listen in and learn!

Train Your Staff

Get your team up to speed on privacy by bringing IAPP training to your organization.

Learn more »

CIPP Certification

The global standard for the go-to person for privacy laws, regulations and frameworks

CIPM Certification

The first and only privacy certification for professionals who manage day-to-day operations

CIPT Certification

The industry benchmark for IT professionals worldwide to validate their knowledge of privacy requirements

Certify Your Staff

Find out how you can bring the world’s only globally recognized privacy certification to a group in your organization.

Learn more about IAPP certification »

Get Close-up

Looking for tools and info on a hot topic? Our close-up pages organize it for you in one easy-to-find place.

Where's Your DPA?

Our interactive DPA locator helps you find data protection authorities and summary of law by country.

IAPP Westin Research Center

See the latest original research from the IAPP Westin fellows.

Looking for Certification Study Resources?

Find out what you need to prepare for your exams

More Resources »

GDPR Comprehensive: Spots Going Fast

With the top minds in the field leading this exceptional program, it's no wonder it's filling quickly. Register now to secure your spot.

Be Part of Something Big: Join the Summit

Registration is open for the Global Privacy Summit 2016. Discounted early bird rates available for a short time, register today!

Data Protection Intensive Returns to London

Registration is now open for the IAPP Europe Data Protection Intensive in London. Check out the program!

P.S.R. Call for Speakers Open!

P.S.R. is THE privacy + cloud security event of the year, and you can take a leading role. Propose a session for this year's program.

Sponsor an Event

Increase visibility for your organization—check out sponsorship opportunities today.

Exhibit at an Event

Put your brand in front of the largest gatherings of privacy pros in the world. Learn more.

More Conferences »

Become a Member

Start taking advantage of the many IAPP member benefits today

Corporate Members

See our list of high-profile corporate members—and find out why you should become one, too

Renew Your Membership

Don’t miss out for a minute—continue accessing your benefits

Join the IAPP»