Last summer, after months of encrypted emails, I spent three days in Moscow hanging out with Edward Snowden for a Wired cover story. Over pepperoni pizza, he told me that what finally drove him to leave his country and become a whistleblower was his conviction that the National Security Agency was conducting illegal surveillance on every American. Thursday, the Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York agreed with him.
In a long-awaited opinion, the three-judge panel ruled that the NSA program that secretly intercepts the telephone metadata of every American – who calls whom and when – was illegal. As a plaintiff with Christopher Hitchens and several others in the original ACLU lawsuit against the NSA, dismissed by another appeals court on a technicality, I had a great deal of personal satisfaction.
It’s now up to Congress to vote on whether or not to modify the law and continue the program, or let it die once and for all. Lawmakers must vote on this matter by June 1, when they need to reauthorize the Patriot Act.
A key factor in that decision is the American public’s attitude toward surveillance. Snowden’s revelations have clearly made a change in that attitude. In a PEW 2006 survey, for example, after the New York Times’ James Risen and Eric Lichtblau revealed the agency’s warrantless eavesdropping activities, 51 percent of the public still viewed the NSA’s surveillance programs as acceptable, while 47 percent found them unacceptable.
After Snowden’s revelations, those numbers reversed. A PEW survey in March revealed that 52 percent of the public is now concerned about government surveillance, while 46 percent is not.
Given the vast amount of revelations about NSA abuses, it is somewhat surprising that just slightly more than a majority of Americans seem concerned about government surveillance. Which leads to the question of why? Is there any kind of revelation that might push the poll numbers heavily against the NSA’s spying programs? Has security fully trumped privacy as far as the American public is concerned? Or is there some program that would spark genuine public outrage?
Few people, for example, are aware that a NSA program known as TREASUREMAP is being developed to continuously map every Internet connection – cellphones, laptops, tablets – of everyone on the planet, including Americans.
This post was published at David Stockmans Contra Corner on May 12, 2015.