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One year after Snowden, it's business as usual for the NSA Featured

Nearly one year on from the first revelations by NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden, it is still business as usual. The NSA continues to scoop up all the data it wants, while the technology companies which have co-operated with it all along continue to try and convince the public that they are doing what they can to curtail such activity.

It was on June 6 that The Guardian, that intrepid British newspaper, ran the first story which gave the world an idea about how expansive and intrusive the methods of spying adopted by the National Security Agency have become. After the terror attacks of September 2001, it has been a virtual free-for-all, with the American media, the New York Times first and foremost, helping the government all it can by withholding information whenever possible.

And people wonder why the public have stopped reading newspapers.

Lawyer and journalist Glenn Greenwald's first book on his encounter with Snowden - No Place to Hide - has just been published and Snowden has also given his first interview to an American TV network. Judging from the NBC interview, it is unlikely that Snowden will ever see his homeland again - not if he wants to spend at least a few years as a free man.

The picture that emerges from the book is a disturbing one - which, if one has read the cascade of stories from Greenwald, Laura Poitras and a few others, one would already know.

But there is a lot of new information in the book about the NSA's spying methods and a blow-by-blow account of how Greenwald came to meet Snowden along with Poitras which reads like good detective fiction.

One little tidbit from the book - the NSA may claim that it does not collect the actual conversations in a phone call or the body of an email. But if someone communicates repeatedly with an individual late at night, then contacts one's doctor, then contacts an abortion clinic, one can get a fair idea of the situation that individual is in, isn't it?

There has been systematic lying by the NSA about its data collection but in the face of its own graphics and the gobbledygook that it has devised to draft its memos being published there is little the agency can indulge in apart from weasel words that would have done that grand old practitioner of the art, Donald Rumsfeld, proud.

Resistance, if any, will be noted only if it comes in a concerted manner from the media. But given the review that the New Yok Times carried about Greenwald's book, it is clear that the mainstream media is wearing the US flag very close to its heart, with business interests put far ahead of any real journalism. Toadies are masquerading as journalists.

The technology companies - Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Skype, and Yahoo! - are no better. They have tried to convince people that they are on the side of the public. Microsoft even went so far as to say that it would be willing to store data of foreign customers in their own countries, and not in the US. But the US courts promptly came down with a judgement that any data stored anywhere by a US company would be subject to the jurisdiction of the US government.

No technology company of any size has stood up to be counted - and that is indeed possible as shown by this courageous example.

The supreme irony is in that this atmosphere, the US government has actually had the temerity to claim that Beijing is spying on Washington - when the ratio of spying between the US and China is probably 500:1. And that's a conservative estimate.

That there is no plan to change a thing is evident from the fact that a massive new data centre is being built in Utah to accommodate the petabytes of data that the NSA scoops up from ordinary folk.

The danger is that the public is getting inured to the repeated tales of spying that continue to be published. People have other, more personal things to bother about - in Australia, the middle-class and poor are wondering how to make ends meet if the repressive budget measures proposed by the Liberal-National coalition are passed.

But it is good to stay informed. It is good to be aware of the perfidy that goes on. And it is good to publicise the fact repeatedly. Only by doing so, will there be any retreat.

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Sam Varghese

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A professional journalist with decades of experience, Sam for nine years used DOS and then Windows, which led him to start experimenting with GNU/Linux in 1998. Since then he has written widely about the use of both free and open source software, and the people behind the code. His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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