NSA Whistleblower Edward Snowden Has Made a Difference

There was a time when no one was listening to the Patriot Act’s voices of caution, and now those voices are saying, “I told you so,” and seemingly everyone is listening. The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) ordered declassification of the court’s 2008 Yahoo decision. House Judiciary Committee confronts National Security Agency (NSA) regarding the extent of its surveillance authority. And, of course, at the end of the day, the taxpayer pays the bill. When no one was listening to the voices of caution On Tuesday, May 24, 2011, Senate Intelligence Committee members Senator Mark Udall, DColo. and Senator Mark Udall, D-Ore. tried to prevent reauthorization of the Patriot Act after learning of inappropriate applications of the law during classified briefings. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid called for a vote to block any further debate. On a vote of 74 to 13, the Senate agreed. According to The Colorado Independent. Now, because of whistleblower Snowden’s revelations, Udall writes, “Finally, the national conversation can begin, with Americans knowing the facts.” FISC orders declassification of the court’s decision On July 15, FISC ordered the NSA to make available for publication its secret 2008 decision, including briefs, that required Yahoo to turn over their customer internet records. Thanks to Yahoo, it is now possible for the public to learn more about the government's decisions that led to obtaining those records. NSA unprecedentedly announced that FISC renewed its authority to collect “telephony metadata.” The current authority expired on July 19. House Judiciary Committee confronts NSA The House Judiciary Committee conducted an impassioned hearing that has the promise of sweeping reform of the government’s presumed authority to snoop on Americans.

At the hearing, NSA acknowledged “that its analysis of phone records and online behavior goes exponentially beyond what it had previously disclosed.” At the end of the day, the taxpayer pays the bill American taxpayers now find that they are paying for internet and telecommunications companies surveillance fees charged to the government for their data. Taxpayers should not be surprised that they would end up paying. We should have known Data collection for the government is not free. But when it becomes a center of profit for these companies, it should make taxpayers angry. “AT&T … imposes a $325 ‘activation fee’ for each wiretap and $10 a day to maintain it. … Cricket and U.S. Cellular charge only about $250 per wiretap. But snoop on a Verizon customer? That costs the government $775 for the first month and $500 each month after that …. Facebook says it doesn't charge the government for access. And while Microsoft, Yahoo and Google won't say how much they charge, the American Civil Liberties Union found that email records can be turned over for as little as $25,” according to the Associated Press. Mother Jones Political blogger Kevin Drum asks, “Do you need more evidence that Edward Snowden has made a difference?” I don’t think we do. You can hate, berate, love, or call Edward Snowden a patriot or traitor, a coward for running rather than staying and facing the music, but without his disclosures there would be no improvements in NSA accountability or transparency. The Patriot Act would be reauthorized year after year with very few questions asked. Most encouraging is that perhaps Snowden’s leaks have aroused a heretofore-apathetic America.

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