Background to the Snowden Extradition story:
First, I read that the Verizon phone and wireless company publicized its customers’ personal identifying information to government authorities. This alarmed me because I had been a Verizon customer close to ten years, and my family in the United States still uses Verizon on a daily basis. My first inclination was as follows: I have a right to privacy and why should any individual or even government agency be entitled to my personal information without any justification?! My second thought was that perhaps this was part of some top secret operation, so why and how did it become uncovered?
Then – flash – came the Edward Snowden story and NSA Surveillance. Edward Snowden disclosed the fact that the government had been retrieving personal information of millions of individuals by gaining access to their phone, email, and other communications’ accounts with different companies and institutions. Snowden was privy to this information because of his position as an analyst in a private company contracted to work for NSA. In a recent Q& A session with Snowden, he specified the very reason why he felt compelled to disclose the government’s “hacking” activities, stating:
Second, let's be clear: I did not reveal any US operations against legitimate military targets. I pointed out where the NSA has hacked civilian infrastructure such as universities, hospitals, and private businesses because it is dangerous. These nakedly, aggressively criminal acts are wrong no matter the target. Not only that, when NSA makes a technical mistake during an exploitation operation, critical systems crash. Congress hasn't declared war on the countries - the majority of them are our allies - but without asking for public permission, NSA is running network operations against them that affect millions of innocent people. And for what? So we can have secret access to a computer in a country we're not even fighting? So we can potentially reveal a potential terrorist with the potential to kill fewer Americans than our own Police? No, the public needs to know the kinds of things a government does in its name, or the "consent of the governed" is meaningless.
The legal authority actually enabling government access to individuals’ confidential information lies in the FISA Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which was enacted to allow physical and electronic surveillance of individuals in order to collect foreign intelligence information on those suspected of espionage and terrorism. The Act, originally enacted in 1978, went through various amendments, one of which allowed the government to obtain personal identifying information of citizens without the use of a warrant for the purposes of anti-terrorism.
The Snowden saga leaves one once again pondering, under what circumstances can a government agency infringe upon one’s reasonable expectation of privacy right? On the one hand, one can argue that under an amendment to the FISA Act, the government’s actions for retrieving personal information without a warrant is legitimate today in order to target suspected terrorists. On the other hand, others, aside from Snowden, (i.e. ACLU) have argued that even such programs violate fundamental constitutional rights.