In these past two months there have been multiple American political scandals, such as Benghazi, AP, NSA, Verizon and the IRS. When a scandal first breaks, many are shocked and most are offended. Major news outlets get a hold of it, fishing for views, and politicians use the scandal to push their agenda. Very little of importance is said and no new knowledge or perspective on the political system is covered. Next, those involved make half-hearted promises and the government promises an investigation. Those on social media dissect and interpret the news and politicians words. Eventually, people forget their anger and get back to everyday drudgery. No one is held accountable. The moment that change can happen passes.
Recently, a whistleblower leaked a secret court order that required Verizon to hand over metadata on calls that were sent or received in the United States. The order defined metadata to include session identifying information (phone numbers), telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of the call. That story was quickly out shined by the release of four slides pertaining to secret surveillance by the NSA. The slides identified PRISM and named major tech companies (Facebook, Google, Microsoft, etc.) that were providing them ‘direct access’ to servers. The next leak was Boundless Informant, a data mining tool that was able to map how much information was collected and separate it out by country. This tool is causing waves in Europe because it showed that the NSA was tracking information about countries it was allied with, such as Germany. The fourth and final shock was Edward Snowden, the leaker behind PRISM and Boundless Informant, revealing himself and asking for asylum.
All four stories broke within a few days. Boundless Informant is the most politically explosive story as it revealed the US is monitoring EU citizens. Unsurprisingly, this has caused much discussion and outrage. Many are discussing limiting what the US can collect and how to make sure their people’s privacy is protected. The Verizon case is important because four data points can be used to predict an individual with 95% accuracy. While warrantless wiretapping has been known, the sheer breadth was a shock. PRISM was of little importance. There was now a name attached to the program that was collecting information. The public had known for years that major tech companies turned over information to NSA. Original reporting of the issue was sensationalistic and misleading. Snowden’s reveal was the least important bit of information. He has little to do with what is going on, and until he is arrested, there’s nothing anyone can do to help or harm him. These last two stories are the most widely discussed while the first two are virtually buried. People, somehow, think [comma vomit?] that defending Snowden will end warrantless wiretapping. Or even worse, they are more concerned about some person who is not in immediate danger than the information that the government can track them through their phones with 95% accuracy.
In European countries, people go to the streets when they disagree with something; anti-Austerity protests, gay marriage protests - even the Occupy movement was more successful in Europe. In the United States, people head to the Internet. Americans make topics trend and then they forget. If the issues will ever be solved, Americans need to actually shake up the government. They cannot get distracted by random pieces of information and ignore actual problems. They have to demand accountability and specific reforms. Three million angry Americans need to stand in Washington and demand change. It is too late for phone calls or to hope that politicians will get their head on straight. They won’t because they don’t have to, they don’t fear the citizen.