Weekly summary of the controversies of PRISM

Trying to write up a summary of the weeks events relating to PRISM is not easy. As I started writing this an email came in from a friend telling me about another revelation in today’s Guardian newspaper and that brings me nicely onto my first point.

More classified material to come…

We don’t know when this will end. It is obvious that there are still some more very revealing stories to be told yet and the Guardian are going to do a trip feed approach. You can hardly blame them for this. The question is what on earth could there be? Well it appears that GCHQ (the equivalent of America’s NSA) were spying on foreign dignitaries during the G20 summit in London back in 2009. I don’t intend on going into much detail about this as it deserves its own piece but it shows that the PRISM and related programs are very far reaching.

Snowden has also spoke about how the US has been hacking certain Chinese institutions and launching cyber attacks there. This is obviously going to be yet another embarrassment to the White House especially given the recent summit between President Obama and his Chinese counterpart in California. One thing is clear – China has gone from being indifferent to the scandal to very interested indeed. It also brings into question though what Snowdens intentions are? This moves away from the philosophical idea that it was purely to spark a debate on citizens liberty, privacy and freedoms and more into the realm of politics.

Declassified information by NSA

What I have found interesting, and it is a stark difference to the past, is how the intelligence services have declassified information so that they can provide further details to back up their claims. I cannot remember a time in the past when this has been the case. The cynic would have you believe that they are only providing the information they want you to know and the rest will remain “classified” to “protect national security” which therefore alleviates the ability to have a full and open debate on the issue that the White House says is keen to see. Furthermore there was a closed doors briefing given to the entire Senate last week. Very few details have emerged from it though other than some senators obviously feeling that the NSA are right in their actions.

Snowden unable to enter the UK

Another telling sign that the British government are worried is that an alert has been issued by the Risk and Liaison Overseas Network at the UK Border Agency which is ultimately governed by the Home Office. This procedure is normally used when a person already has clearance to enter the country either by already holding a valid visa or not needing a visa due to an agreement between the UK and the citizens country. The alert stated that airlines would be liable to a £2,000 charge which is in the form of a fine. On top of that the airline responsible would be liable for the costs of the persons detention and removal. This is valid under Section 40 of the Immigration and Asylum Act 1999.

The apparent justification for the alert is because Snowden is apparently “highly likely to be denied entry to the UK“, although they do not state why. I would assume, having looked through the immigration rules, specifically part 9 that deals with refusing entry, that the reason would fall under the following category:

(6) where the Secretary of State has personally directed that the exclusion of a person from the United Kingdom is conducive to the public good;

I have to reiterate though that this is only an assumption and a personal opinion as nobody knows the reason behind it given that it’s not been disclosed. You can also find out more information about it here.

Disclosures from Technology companies on requests

Finally we have the disclosures from the various different technology companies stating how many requests they had received. The government have not given them permission to break it down into sub categories so currently they are unable to say how many relate to FISA requests. Google are fighting this saying:

We have always believed that it’s important to differentiate between different types of government requests. Lumping the two categories together would be a step back for users.

and they have the support of Twitter as well with their Legal Director, Benjamin Lee tweeting

We agree with @Google: It’s important to be able to publish numbers of national security requests—including FISA disclosures—separately.

But in the meantime we know the following:

  • Facebook said it received between 9,000 and 10,000 requests covering between 18,000 and 19,000 accounts.
  • Microsoft said it received between 6,000 and 7,000 requests from US government agencies affecting between 31,000 and 32,000 customer accounts.
  • Apple said it received requests for information linked to between 9,000 and 10,000 accounts or devices between December and the end of May.

Whilst that may be a sizable chuck, it’s not as bad as I was expecting to be honest. I hope that it can be broken down into more specific categories so we can gain a better understand.

I wonder what this week will bring…

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