The Grand Signal

A digital magazine covering the intersection of technology, human rights and social change.

NSA has successfully diverted all media attention away from their surveillance program

For the past 3 weeks, an IT contractor has become the target of the biggest international manhunt since Osama Bin Laden. Somehow, a guy that looks more like an actor cast to play the protagonist in the live-action film rendition of Dilbert than a high-profile criminal, has dominated the air waves in the most recent news sky-rocketing internet outcry contributing little more than a spike in 1984 sales.

I admit, The Grand Signal hasn’t been much better. A lot of our recent posts have looked like an Edward Snowden Twitter feed.

In our defense, that’s literally the only bit of world news that’s regularly hit the airwaves for the past 3 weeks. It’s certainly a good thing that the issue is getting attention — Bradley Manning and WikiLeak’s case didn’t get nearly as much press coverage — but the attention is being diverted in entirely the wrong direction. By engaging in an absurd international manhunt, the USA has successfully diverted attention from an NSA espionage scandal to a glorified game of Where’s Waldo being played by the entire planet.

The word Snowden is “trending” on CNN, BBC, Al-Jazeera, Fox News and practically every other major news outlet, whereas any discussion about the NSA revelations are being buried in the tech section, tied to the ‘Restore the Fourth’ protests.

Let’s put this in perspective: a man has leaked government information so sensitive that it’s made him the most important figure in foreign policymaking for nearly a month, and almost nobody is talking about the leaks. PRISM dominated mainstream news on the day of it’s revelation – since then, it’s turned entirely into a Friday night Broadway feature on Where in the World is Edward Snowden?

Snowden is either a hero, or a traitor, and it’s not my position to either glorify or vilify him — but instead of engaging in legitimate conversation about the fact that the NSA considers it normal to spy on what it’s citizens had for breakfast, we’re obsessed on up-to-the-minute updates on his life. It’s become one big tabloid story.

It’s time we shifted the discussion to something far more prevalent. The fact of the matter is, the NSA can and has actively engaged in real-time surveillance of our emails, Facebook conversations, mail packages, phone calls, etc. for a number of years using shady legal channels. In the name of safety and security, an unconsenting electorate has been the target of the biggest espionage operation since the USSR. Post-911 America has made the shift into a surveillance state, the ethics of which have been heavily discussed over the last half a century. Not only has the NSA refused to give an official rebuke or statement regarding concerns of the program, their response to the EU’s anger at surveillance of foreign diplomats practically amounted to “well everyone else does it too”.

It’s time to stop this nonsense and start asking the real questions about one of the biggest national security controversies of the modern era.

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