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The Privacy Advisor | Reactions to NSA Disclosures Continue Related reading: Implications of EDPB's looming 'pay or OK' guidelines



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, 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


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