The NSA surveillance scandal is rooted in the Bay Area. Who was involved, when did it start -- and how can you protect your privacy?
The question of whether leading tech companies were participating voluntarily, or were secretly compelled to do so, or if this data was being collected without their knowledge or cooperation altogether still seems far from settled. "I have my own suspicions — which I won't go into here — about what PRISM was actually about," Google+ Chief Architect Yonatan Zunger noted in a G+ thread the following day. "I'll just say that there are ways to intercept people's Google, Facebook, etc., traffic in bulk without sticking any moles into the org — or directly tapping their lines."
Meanwhile, nearly 40,000 individuals had signed an online thank-you note to Snowden, "for his principled and courageous actions as a whistleblower, informing the public about vast surveillance by the National Security Agency that undermines our civil liberties." That website, SupportEdwardSnowden.org, was set up by Roots Action, co-founded by Marin County resident Norman Solomon, author and president of the Institute for Public Accuracy.
Solomon was also a panelist at the June 11 forum, where he sharply criticized Sen. Dianne Feinstein, chair of the Senate Intelligence Committee and former mayor of San Francisco, for publicly characterizing Snowden's leak as "an act of treason." When Feinstein's name came up during the panel talk on civil liberties, the crowd responded with boos and hisses.
"Where are the progressives of the Bay Area — beginning with San Francisco?" Solomon wondered later in a telephone call with the Guardian. "We should be insisting that she leave that job as chair of the Intelligence Committee. ... In the court of public opinion, she should be condemned. Because really. It's democracy at stake. To hear her talk and examine her behavior, you would think that the Fourth Amendment was ... mere advisory."
Meanwhile, activists who were already organizing in support of Manning had begun investigating what options might be available to Snowden, who, as of press time, was still believed to be in Hong Kong and hadn't yet been formally charged. Birgitta Jónsdóttir told the Bay Guardian that her organization, International Modern Media Institute, was ready to respond to Snowden's reported interest in seeking political asylum in Iceland.
"I'm quite concerned, because there are no direct flights to Iceland," she explained. "I'm just worried about the extradition process in other countries — if he needs to do a layover, or if we're not quick enough to grant him asylum. And, frankly speaking, one of the parties in the government in Iceland is never going to agree to support it. So, it's tricky."
Ellsberg, the Pentagon Papers whistleblower, highlighted the similarities between himself, Manning, and Snowden. "The question that each of us faced was: Was it worth our lives, our freedom, and possibly our physical existence to reveal these secrets, which were wrongly held from the American public, in order to inform the public?" he said. "And each of us decided that it was worth, essentially, a life in prison and possibly death. And I think the decisions were right in each case."
Technologists explain how to protect your communications from government surveillance
The bad news: You cannot effectively counter the government's ability to snoop on your communications unless you live out the rest of your existence under a rock (i.e., give up your cell phone altogether). The good news: There are some free software programs that can help you to shield the contents of your communications, should you feel the need to shield your privacy.