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My view: NSA, Edward Snowden and Utah

By Gordon Young

For the Deseret News

Published: Friday, July 18 2014 2:27 p.m. MDT

Until we can destroy all this excess personal information from various organizations both public and private, keeping only that information obtained by court order, is there nothing we can do to warn the public of the possible results?

Glenn Greenwald, Laura Poitras, Associated Press

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In Glen Greenwald’s book "No Place to Hide," Mr. Greenwald quotes Edward Snowden saying “Massive Data Depositories are being built worldwide with the largest at the new data center in Utah.” A question can be asked about Snowden’s statement. If Snowden had come out with this before the NSA storage facility had been built, would the good people of Utah have wanted this gigantic facility in our state? I think not. However, so long as it is now here, I believe we need to articulate a policy toward the facility and what it does to both our personal viewpoints and the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution.

One statement heard often in defense of NSA and this storage is “let them do it, I have nothing to hide!” You personally may not if you have no personal information, but nearly everyone else does have information they do not want shared. This information is not illegal or criminal, but personal such as health, business strategies, future plans for love and life, financial situations both good and bad, political or religious views and many other written or video pieces of life. It is my belief that Edward Snowden did what he did out of the highest love of the Constitution and at the highest level of patriotic whistle-blowing to protect that Constitution.

Suppose there is another person far less patriotic and obsessed by money and power still working for NSA at the same level as Snowden. What is to prevent this person from downloading files on business plans of corporations and individuals, financial information of many entities and perhaps most damaging, political information on policies, financial sources and human flaws of a candidate to act upon by an opponent and offer these for sale?

In a presidential or other national election, such information could be catastrophic in determining the outcome. I am sure that only a very small number of NSA employees could ever act in this manner, but look at what Snowden did by himself. It would also seem that NSA condones lies to protect itself if “necessary” as witnessed by James Clapper, the head of U.S. intelligence, telling a congressional panel and the entire country that the government does not collect massive information on U.S. citizens purposefully.

What would covert files for money do to the NSA? Perhaps what is all right for the boss to do should be all right for the employees as well. I cannot excuse such unnecessary lies, “no comment” would work just fine. Clapper chose to willfully commit perjury in my view, and has he been called to account for his lies as Snowden has been for his patriotic whistle-blowing?

In the last few weeks, the Supreme Court blocked police from rifling through a personal cellphone because of the large amount of personal data that can be found there. When Snowden’s efforts get to that court as I believe they must, what will the court say about the NSA policies of attempting to collect everything while lying about it?

It is my belief that when government data collection is added to the volumes of commercial personal data they can access under present regulations and also pirate information, there will be enormous amounts of individual information available for exploitation.

Recently, a Snowden-created leak has stated that the U.K. version of NSA has the capability of online modification of poll data and many other methods of influencing policy. Do we want this sort of thing in our country even if it helps to keep us “safe”?

In my novel "Colors," published in 2006, a society was nearly destroyed by collecting data from hundreds of databases and assigning each individual a single number from 0 to 100. This “Reliability Score” set all parameters of one's life. Work options, education, travel limits, approved home addresses, credit worthiness, suitability for various professions, trust level and dozens of other things. The rating was corrupt and could be changed by purchasing an “upgrade” from various shadowy organizations.

I am concerned that so long as great amounts of personal data exist in files anywhere, it will ultimately be abused and can destroy our civilization. Snowden has suggested that universal cryptography may be a workable solution to this problem if used by most people.

Until we can destroy all this excess personal information from various organizations both public and private, keeping only that information obtained by court order, is there nothing we can do to warn the public of the possible results of collecting this information?

Congress should take this matter up with the highest urgency, but in the meantime we could contribute to installing commercial billboards where all NSA employees would see them driving to and from work. Put some of the text from the Fourth Amendment on the billboards on private land near the entrances and exits to all intelligence facilities to force employees by repetition to learn and ponder about their involvement with that amendment and to help them become better acquainted with the Constitution in general.

Gordon Young is a Consulting Engineer (PE). Recipient of a number of national awards, he has worked on a wide range of products such as nuclear rocket engines, Disney projects and Utah’s first commercial solar home.

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