The idea of a state constantly watching over the shoulder and keeping an eye on what we say and do, had seemed Orwellian. But we learn from a report in the UK’s Guardian newspaper that such a time may be with us now.
According to the report, the US’s giant National Security Agency (NSA), established amidst the hysteria which followed the 9/11 attacks, collected the second highest volume of intelligence data from Pakistan in March this year, compared with countries around the world. In that month alone, 13.5 billion items of data were collected from Pakistan, with Iran topping the list with 14 billion. Jordan and Egypt followed closely behind. In reality, this means, of course, that through the use of technology, every email, Facebook, Skype or other interaction any of us has over the electronic media can be monitored in Washington. This, of course, is a blatant violation of privacy. The legal position is questionable — President Barack Obama has said the collection of data in this fashion is not unlawful but at least one US senator, Republican Rand Paul, has said that he may mount a legal challenge in the Supreme Court on it. Furthermore, Democrat Senator Shaun Udall has publicly said that the Obama Administration needed to be more transparent.
There are other broader questions here. The fact is that there is no clear unanimity on the US government spying on even its own citizens in such a manner, let alone the rest of the world. Furthermore, the fact remains that all the countries barring Iran, on whose computer networks the NSA engaged in this major snooping — Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt and India — happen to be allies of Washington. Of course, even the closest of allies at times spy on each other and that should come as no surprise but the scale of the NSA spying seems to be massive: in the case of Pakistan, the collection seems to be over 5,200 data items per second!
The matter is a serious one; it cannot be ignored and now that the facts are before us, at the very least, one would like an official response from the government.
Published in The Express Tribune, June 11th, 2013.
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