Last week, reports appeared regarding the U.S. government’s program PRISM that obtains the internet records from nine U.S. companies: Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube, and Apple. This followed the earlier disturbing revelation on June 5th that the FISA Court had ordered Verizon to turn over the phone records of all customers over the last seven years.
It appears that emails, photos, online and social networking activities as well as the phone records have been obtained by the FBI and NSA. These two revelations about the amount of personal information received by the government, if true as reported, is very troubling.
We are, frankly, saddened that two major revelations about our country’s surveillance practices confirm our gravest worries: the government has obtained vast amounts of personal information about the activities, especially electronic communications of all kinds, of essentially everyone in the United States, including millions of innocent people.
We repeat the call for a true public dialogue on our nation’s surveillance laws and procedures and how to fix the flaws in laws such as FISA (the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) and the USA PATRIOT Act. The public needs a way to become engaged to determine what degree of public accountability is needed and how to improve the balance between individual rights and the need of government to investigate terrorism and other harmful acts.
There needs to be effective legal review, judicial oversight permitting transparency and public accountability – not wholesale fishing expeditions – to get personal information on millions of innocent people! Our country needs to find the right balance.