How NSA data collection affects you - WCBD-TV: News, Weather, and Sports for Charleston, SC

How NSA data collection affects you

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The international manhunt continues for a 29-year-old former CIA employee who allegedly leaked information about government spying programs to the press.

Edward Snowden allegedly exposed details of a top-secret surveillance program that collects phone and internet data to thwart terrorist plots, sparking a debate on the balance between national security versus personal privacy.

President Obama has said the information of every day Americans is not being mined... but some aren't so sure.

"I personally don't have a problem with what's being collected, simply because it's not the substance of conversations, it's simply the transaction of one phone call to another," Political Science professor, Dr. Claire Wofford said.

The telephone records collection was authorized by the Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Court. The court was set up in 1978 as part of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA). They operate in secret to monitor terrorism and national security investigations.

"So what the NSA is doing, they are doing under statutory authorization, so it's legal in the sense that its being done under authorization. Whether or not that authorization is in itself unconstitutional is a question we don't know the answer to yet," Wofford said.

The alleged whistleblower, Edward Snowden, said the public needs to decide whether the government's surveillance is right or wrong. Meanwhile, a criminal report has been filed to determine if he was in the right or wrong.

"He is arguably guilty of leaking secrets to terrorist organizations," Wofford said.

National Intelligence officials said these programs are meant to monitor a wide variety of terrorist threats, and local political analysts said it's a method the country has considered before.

"I think there's a history in government, during the Cold War there was a big threat out there, this is just a different type of threat," Political Science Director at the College of Charleston Gibbs Knotts said. "It's terrorism, it's groups of bad people not big countries we're trying to protect ourselves against so it's a real challenge."

In today's era, Knotts said privacy is something people regularly surrender. "We live in a public world," he said, and government has the technology to try and make the country safer but it does raise some privacy rights and democracy concerns.

The Guardian newspaper published a court order indicating Verizon's data is being shared, but analysts say other carriers are likely involved so the government could have most or all telephone logs.

The Director of National Intelligence has gone on record saying the phone records could only be accessed by a judge with suspicion to terrorist activity.

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