Snowden: To spy or not to spy

Published: June 2, 2015 - 13:15 Updated: June 16, 2015 - 14:05

Khushboo Khatra Delhi

Two years ago a skinny bespectacled man took the world by the storm when he revealed NSA’s mass surveillance programs targeting not just American citizens but people from the world over.  A former contractor on one of the NSA’s programmes, Edward Snowden decided to blow the whistle and dug out various skeletons in the US government’s closet. Today, that programme ended temporarily after the US Senate failed to pass a bill that would reform the Section 215 of the Patriot Act which expired on Sunday. 

Once the reforms are ratified, Section 215 will give way to the USA FREEDOM Act which stands for "Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet-collection and Online Monitoring Act", which emerged largely as a response to the reformers seeking to outlaw the Patriot Act. It has already passed the House of Representatives and is strongly supported by the White House.

This Act would continue the bulk data programme but have the phone companies to hold on to the phone records instead of them being stored by the US government. It would also force investigators to get a warrant from a secret intelligence court in order to look at a specific record.

Seen as a victory by the civil libertarians, many believe that this is a step in the right direction.

Rand Paul, the Republican senator who is also running to be the Republican presidential candidate, however believes that this is not enough. He opposes both options and argues that the Patriot Act should be allowed to expire without being reauthorised in any form.

"We should not be debating modifying an illegal programme. We should simply end it," Mr Paul said. On the other end of the spectrum, John Brennan, the director of the CIA, warned against allowing the Patriot Act to lapse.

"Unfortunately, I think that there has been a little too much political grandstanding and crusading for ideological causes that have skewed the debate on this issue," Mr Brennan said. "But these tools are important to American lives." Meanwhile, from phone records to credit cards to internet browsing, Snowden revealed that the government had given itself the authority to pry into the private lives of each and every person without their consent and that nothing personal remained sacred.

Such controversial revelations understandably divided the general populace into three main factions: those in favour of mass surveillance and Patriot Act, those against and lastly the reformers who want a middle-path between privacy and security.