This House believes that indiscriminate NSA surveillance of the rest of the world hurts the United States

June and July 2013 brought a large number of revelations about the size of surveillance by the National Security Agency, the US intelligence agency that deals with monitoring communications around the world. While it was known that the internet was monitored it was not known to what extent, the leaks showed that such surveillance was indiscriminate essentially hovering in much of the internet for analysis, so much that the data is often held for only a few days. The revelations also applied to other countries agencies such as the UK’s Government Communications Headquarters.

On the 5th June a court order by the United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court was published. This showed that Verizon was being forced to hand over all telephony metadata to the National Security Agency. This included “session identifying information (e.g., originating and terminating telephone number, International Mobile Subscriber Identity (IMSI) number, International Mobile station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, etc.), trunk identifier, telephone calling card numbers, and time and duration of call… [however] metadata does not include the substantive content of any communication”.[1]

This was however just the start. A program called PRISM was revealed the next day. The PRISM program allows collection of data on via a large number online services run by US companies including Microsoft, Google, Yahoo, and Facebook among others. The companies provide structured information that is easy for the NSA to search and analyse through the PRISM program.

A couple of months later information of another program called XKeyscore were published in the Guardian newspaper. XKeyscore is apparently the NSA’s widest reaching system that covers "nearly everything a typical user does on the internet", including the content of emails, websites visited and searches, as well as their metadata.[2] This is a data retrieval system that lets the NSA search other sources, particularly all the unstructured information they hoover up from tapping into the fiber optic cables that enter and leave the United States allowing access to almost all internet traffic.[3]

The response to this spying has of course been outrage, but most of that outrage has been internal; that the spying is so indiscriminate it means that the National Security Agency is spying on Americans and so breaching their fourth amendment rights. However no one is particularly bothered about whether the United States should be using these programs against other countries – the implicit assumption is yes it should.[4]

The United States clearly gets an immense amount of data out of its dragnets of information on the internet but what is more questionable is whether such programs are actually a benefit to the country. Most nations manage with much smaller amounts of worldwide surveillance and there was outrage across many countries at the extent of the surveillance. The actions of the NSA have therefore both benefited the United States; they provide the benefit of being able to track almost anyone but the cost in terms of lost trust and damaged relations with the rest of the world.

[1] Greenwald, Glenn, ‘NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily’, The Guardian, 6 June 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/nsa-phone-records-verizon-court-order

[2] ‘XKeyscore presentation from 2008 – read in full’, theguardian.com, 31 July 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/jul/31/nsa-xkeyscore-program-full-presentation

[3] Braun, Stephen et al., ‘PRISM Is Just Part Of A Much Larger, Scarier Government Surveillance Program’, Business Insider, 15 June 2013, http://www.businessinsider.com/prism-is-just-the-start-of-nsa-spying-2013-6?utm_source=hearst&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=allverticals#ixzz2WIkgYDqZ

[4] Dourado, Eli, ‘So much for America’s internet freedom agenda’, theguardian.com, 7 August 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/07/nsa-surveillance-alienating-us-from-world

 

Title 
Indiscriminate spying damages trust
Point 

Trust is important in international relations. Whenever there is an international agreement each side has to trust that the other side will fulfil its side of the bargain; there is no court to step in and ensure that they do. Trust therefore needs to be built up. A large part of this is simply fulfilling promises that have been made in such treaties but trust can also be about being open with each other. When a country engages in an immense spying operation against another nation it is clearly damaging the trust between those nations. With the United States this is just one in a long line of issues that have undermined trust in the US government; the Iraq war, Guantanamo bay, drone strikes etc. and the continued violations of international law these represent have all undermined trust in the United States internationally.[1]

[1] Dunn, Matthew, ‘PRISM: An International Relations Disaster?’, Huffington Post, 10 July 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-dunn/prism-nsa_b_3563170.html

Counterpoint 

It is not so much the spying that damages trust as the revelations that do so. As former CIA director Michael Hayden commented “Who on this planet [now] believes the Americans can keep a secret? This really erodes the kind of corporation that our intelligence service has with other intelligence agencies.”[1] Trust comes from working together and this is just as true in the intelligence sphere as elsewhere. Governments already knew the NSA spies on them, that so much information about the how and when has been revealed will be what is the shock.

[1] Coleman, Michael, ‘Besides Bruised Egos, Will NSA Spy Leaks Cause Lasting Pain?’, The Washington Diplomat, 30 July 2012, http://www.washdiplomat.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9408:besides-bruised-egos-will-nsa-spy-leaks-cause-lasting-pain&catid=1505&Itemid=428

Title 
Damages diplomatic relations with allies
Point 

Every country needs friends and historically the United States has managed to maintain a large number of close relationships with states around the world; it has alliances with various Asian states such as South Korea and Japan, with many Middle Eastern states, and with almost the whole of Europe. The NSA’s spying has damaged these relationships. French President Hollande said “We cannot accept this kind of behavior from partners and allies,”[1] while the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz complained “the United States of America treats its closest partners, including Germany for example, but also the European Union as a whole like hostile powers”. There have even been suggestions that this would jeopardise trade talks as warned by the Commissioner Viviane Reding that “if there is any doubt that our partners are bugging the offices of European negotiators, then the future trade talks could be in difficulty”.[2]

[1] Chu, Henry, ‘European leaders angered by U.S. spying reports’, Los Angeles Times, 1 July 2013, http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jul/01/world/la-fg-wn-france-germany-us-spying-reports-20130701

[2] Hewitt, Gavin, ‘EU anger at US spy scandal softened by trade talks’, BBC News, 2 July 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23142522

Counterpoint 

Every country engages in spying against other countries and so are not surprised by the revelations. These countries leaders are obliged to sound like they are outraged but in practice they will already have known such actions occur – they might be interested to learn the details but little else. Hollande’s own Direction Générale de la Securité Extérieure (DGSC) has been described by Bernard Barbier, its former technical director, as "probably the biggest information centre in Europe after the English". It uses similar methods to the NSA with systematic collection of emails, sms messages, phone records, social media posts which is then all stored for years.[1] President Obama is right to point out “I guarantee you that in European capitals, there are people who are interested in, if not what I had for breakfast, at least what my talking points might be should I end up meeting with their leaders. That's how intelligence services operate.”[2]

[1] Follorou, Jaques, and Johannès, Franck, ‘Exclusive: French intelligence has its own version of PRISM’, Le Monde, 4 July 2013, http://www.worldcrunch.com/world-affairs/exclusive-french-intelligence-has-its-own-version-of-prism/dgse-prism-secret-service-france-big-brother-/c1s12643/

[2] Chu, Henry, ‘European leaders angered by U.S. spying reports’, Los Angeles Times, 1 July 2013, http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jul/01/world/la-fg-wn-france-germany-us-spying-reports-20130701

Title 
Undermines US position on internet freedom
Point 

The United States, along with Europe, has been the key voice arguing for freedom on the internet and in particular that the internet should not be controlled nationally. Russia and China in particular have been advocating for much more control over the internet by states with Russia’s proposal advocating that “Member States shall have equal rights to manage the Internet” and “Member States shall have the sovereign right to establish and implement public policy… on matters of Internet governance, and to regulate the national Internet segment”.[1] Essentially every state should have the right to censor and surveil their chunk of the internet. With the United States already doing this countries that have previously been wavering may be much more inclined to support these proposals over US objections.[2] The US would stand to lose out as it is currently the country with most control over internet governance.

[1] Russian Federation ‘Proposals for the work of the conference’, International Telecommunications Union, 17 November 2012, http://files.wcitleaks.org/public/S12-WCIT12-C-0027!R1!MSW-E.pdf

[2] Dourado, Eli, ‘So much for America’s internet freedom agenda’, theguardian.com, 7 August 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/07/nsa-surveillance-alienating-us-from-world

Counterpoint 

Most other states accept that there is a large degree of self interest in the United States opposing Russian and Chinese proposals for internet governance, finding out that there is some hypocrisy too is unlikely to sway their votes. 

Title 
Damages US commercial interests
Point 

The United States is the preponderant power in internet commerce; most of the big internet companies, the big software companies, even many of the hardware companies are companies that are based in the United States. This both enables US use of these systems for spying as occurred with PRISM because it happens that most web traffic passes through the United States, and makes the United States vulnerable when the world’s consumers think these companies have been betraying their trust. If consumers don’t think US companies can guarantee their data and privacy it should be no surprise that they will consider transferring their business.[1] Cloud computing is particularly affected, among the revelations has been that Microsoft helps the NSA with access to its cloud storage service skydrive.[2] According to a survey by the Cloud Security Alliance 10% of non US responders had cancelled a project with US based providers since the leaks about NSA projects and 56% say they would be less likely to use a US based service. The Information Technology & Innovation Foundation estimates this could cost the US cloud computing industry between $21.5 and $35bln in revenues over the next three years.[3] And this is just one part of the computing and software industries, other areas are likely to be less affected but may well still lose business.

[1] Naughton, John, ‘Edward Snowden’s not the story. The fate of the Internet is’, The Observer, 28 July 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jul/28/edward-snowden-death-of-internet

[2] Greenwald, Glenn et al., ‘How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages’, The Guardian, 12 July 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/11/microsoft-nsa-collaboration-user-data

[3] Taylor, Paul, ‘Cloud computing industry could lose up to $35bn on NSA disclosures’, FT.com, 5 August 2013, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9f02b396-fdf0-11e2-a5b1-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2bSXVdqSE

Counterpoint 

There is no reason for foreign companies to be worried about NSA surveillance. The companies involved such as Google have denied involvement “we have not joined any program that would give the U.S. government—or any other government—direct access to our servers. Indeed, the U.S. government does not have direct access or a “back door” to the information stored in our data centers. We had not heard of a program called PRISM until yesterday.”[1] There should be no concern about companies’ data as the NSA is about protecting national security and is not interested in the commercial work of millions of businesses around the world.

[1] Page, Larry, and Drummond, David, ‘What the …?’, Google Official Blog, 7 June 2013, http://googleblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/what.html

Title 
Surveillance is necessary to protect national security
Point 

The primary concern of the state is the protection of its people from foreign powers. This usually means physical protection but this physical protection relies upon knowing what others are doing; where the threats are coming from. That means surveillance. There needs to be monitoring of groups that potentially pose a threat to the state or to its citizens. In a world where terrorism is as much a threat as other states there is a clear need to be watching as many people as possible around the world. Threats such as that to western interests in Yemen at the start of August 2013 demonstrate the need to be watching out for threats as intelligence picked up high level threats to western interests so allowing the United States and others to take pre-emptive action by closing embassies and evacuating personnel.[1]

[1] Hicks, Josh, ‘Chambliss: Threats ‘very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11’, The Washington Post, 4 August 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/08/04/chambliss-threats-very-reminiscent-of-what-we-saw-pre-911/

Counterpoint 

No one disputes that some surveillance is necessary, the question is how much. Is the use of bulk catch all surveillance useful? In the case cited it seems not – this was the monitoring of specific individuals who were already known to US intelligence services; Ayaman al Zawahiri, al Qaeda’s leader and Nasser al Wahishi the head of al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula.[1] Normal intelligence methods without the broad based surveillance would have caught the same messages. Monitoring the communications of known terrorist leaders was done long before the internet was on the scene.

[1] Associated Press, ‘AP sources: Al-Qaida chief’s intercepted m,essage to deputy in Yemen caused embassy closures’, The Washington Post, 5 August 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/state-dept-says-us-diplomatic-posts-in-19-countries-will-stay-closed-through-saturday/2013/08/05/d58fbbdc-fda2-11e2-8294-0ee5075b840d_story.html

Title 
Broad web surveillance prevents terrorist attacks
Point 

Over the last ten years, and right up to the present day, the most important national security interest of the United States has been preventing terrorism. A fight against terrorism requires a large amount of resources invested in tracking terrorist networks and in finding those who may turn to terrorism. Intelligence gathering cannot just focus on those we already know to be terrorists as people can easily become radicalised while not meeting any individuals already considered to be terrorists. This means that there needs to be a broad brush intelligence gathering operation that finds those who are on the path to terrorism. This is why operations like PRISM and xkeyscore are so important; they allow the United States to find people who are being radicalised by material online or those who are just working out how to launch an attack themselves. The NSA Director Keith Alexander has stated that the surveillance has helped prevent “potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11.”, with PRISM contributing to 90% of the information on these plots. As only 10 were domestic the surveillance is a benefit to other countries as well as the United States.[1]

[1] Nakashima, Ellen, ‘Officials: Surveillance programs foiled more than 50 terrorist plots’, The Washington Post, 18 June 2013, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-06-18/world/40043402_1_plots-alexander-national-security-agency

Counterpoint 

Clearly the intelligence efforts on such a scale must provide some return in terms of stopping terrorism or they would not be worth the cost. However it is open to question whether the impact has been nearly as big as had been cited by the intelligence agencies. We clearly don’t know if these terrorists would have been detected through other methods. Additionally in at least one case where the FBI and NSA have stated that electronic surveillance has played a key role it has turned out not to be the case. FBI deputy director Sean Joyce has claimed that an attack on the New York Stock exchange was foiled by electronic surveillance; “We went up on the electronic surveillance and identified his co-conspirators” yet the emails involved were perfectly ordinary – the only information gained from the broad brush surveillance was that the plotter was in contact with al Qaeda leaders in Yemen. Something which surely could have been caught the other way around – by looking at the al Qaeda leaders communications.[1] Other cases such as that of Basaaly Moalin who was convicted of sending $8,500 to support Somali terrorist group al Shabab that have been highlighted by the NSA have similarly not required such broad surveillance.[2]

[1] Ross, Brian et al., ‘NSA Claim of Thwarted NYSE Plot Contradicted by Court Documents’, ABC News, 19 June 2013, http://abcnews.go.com/m/story?id=19436557

[2] Nakashima, Ellen, ‘NSA cites case as success of phone data-collection program’, The Washington Post, 8 August 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-cites-case-as-success-of-phone-data-collection-program/2013/08/08/fc915e5a-feda-11e2-96a8-d3b921c0924a_story.html?hpid=z1

Title 
Allows monitoring of foreign governments
Point 

Governments expect to be monitored by other governments and do so themselves as well. Monitoring other governments provides major advantages even when those governments are ostensibly friendly as no government is going to tell even its allies everything there need to be other ways to learn such information. Surveillance can provide advantages in negotiations; it can let you know how far the other side is willing to go. GCHQ for example engaged in intercepting communications by monitoring phones and even setting up fake internet cafes during the G20 meetings in London in 2008.[1]

[1] MacAskill, Ewen et al., ‘GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians’ communications at G20 summits’, The Guardian, 17 June 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jun/16/gchq-intercepted-communications-g20-summits

Counterpoint 

While this is clearly a benefit of spying it is not so much of a benefit of the kind of indiscriminate spying such as the PRISM program. Tapping diplomats mobile phones and setting up fake internet cafes is clearly not indiscriminate, far from it this is targeted surveillance. 

Bibliography 

Associated Press, ‘AP sources: Al-Qaida chief’s intercepted m,essage to deputy in Yemen caused embassy closures’, The Washington Post, 5 August 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/state-dept-says-us-diplomatic-posts-in-19-countries-will-stay-closed-through-saturday/2013/08/05/d58fbbdc-fda2-11e2-8294-0ee5075b840d_story.html

Braun, Stephen et al., ‘PRISM Is Just Part Of A Much Larger, Scarier Government Surveillance Program’, Business Insider, 15 June 2013, http://www.businessinsider.com/prism-is-just-the-start-of-nsa-spying-2013-6?utm_source=hearst&utm_medium=referral&utm_content=allverticals#ixzz2WIkgYDqZ

Chu, Henry, ‘European leaders angered by U.S. spying reports’, Los Angeles Times, 1 July 2013, http://articles.latimes.com/2013/jul/01/world/la-fg-wn-france-germany-us-spying-reports-20130701

Coleman, Michael, ‘Besides Bruised Egos, Will NSA Spy Leaks Cause Lasting Pain?’, The Washington Diplomat, 30 July 2012, http://www.washdiplomat.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=9408:besides-bruised-egos-will-nsa-spy-leaks-cause-lasting-pain&catid=1505&Itemid=428

Dourado, Eli, ‘So much for America’s internet freedom agenda’, theguardian.com, 7 August 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/aug/07/nsa-surveillance-alienating-us-from-world

Dunn, Matthew, ‘PRISM: An International Relations Disaster?’, Huffington Post, 10 July 2013, http://www.huffingtonpost.com/matthew-dunn/prism-nsa_b_3563170.html

Follorou, Jaques, and Johannès, Franck, ‘Exclusive: French intelligence has its own version of PRISM’, Le Monde, 4 July 2013, http://www.worldcrunch.com/world-affairs/exclusive-french-intelligence-has-its-own-version-of-prism/dgse-prism-secret-service-france-big-brother-/c1s12643/

Greenwald, Glenn, ‘NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily’, The Guardian, 6 June 2013, http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2013/jun/06/nsa-phone-records-verizon-court-order

Greenwald, Glenn et al., ‘How Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages’, The Guardian, 12 July 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jul/11/microsoft-nsa-collaboration-user-data

Hewitt, Gavin, ‘EU anger at US spy scandal softened by trade talks’, BBC News, 2 July 2013, http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-europe-23142522

Hicks, Josh, ‘Chambliss: Threats ‘very reminiscent of what we saw pre-9/11’, The Washington Post, 4 August 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/blogs/post-politics/wp/2013/08/04/chambliss-threats-very-reminiscent-of-what-we-saw-pre-911/

MacAskill, Ewen et al., ‘GCHQ intercepted foreign politicians’ communications at G20 summits’, The Guardian, 17 June 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/uk/2013/jun/16/gchq-intercepted-communications-g20-summits

Nakashima, Ellen, ‘NSA cites case as success of phone data-collection program’, The Washington Post, 8 August 2013, http://www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-cites-case-as-success-of-phone-data-collection-program/2013/08/08/fc915e5a-feda-11e2-96a8-d3b921c0924a_story.html?hpid=z1

Nakashima, Ellen, ‘Officials: Surveillance programs foiled more than 50 terrorist plots’, The Washington Post, 18 June 2013, http://articles.washingtonpost.com/2013-06-18/world/40043402_1_plots-alexander-national-security-agency

Naughton, John, ‘Edward Snowden’s not the story. The fate of the Internet is’, The Observer, 28 July 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jul/28/edward-snowden-death-of-internet

Page, Larry, and Drummond, David, ‘What the …?’, Google Official Blog, 7 June 2013, http://googleblog.blogspot.co.uk/2013/06/what.html

Ross, Brian et al., ‘NSA Claim of Thwarted NYSE Plot Contradicted by Court Documents’, ABC News, 19 June 2013, http://abcnews.go.com/m/story?id=19436557

Russian Federation ‘Proposals for the work of the conference’, International Telecommunications Union, 17 November 2012, http://files.wcitleaks.org/public/S12-WCIT12-C-0027!R1!MSW-E.pdf

Taylor, Paul, ‘Cloud computing industry could lose up to $35bn on NSA disclosures’, FT.com, 5 August 2013, http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/9f02b396-fdf0-11e2-a5b1-00144feabdc0.html#axzz2bSXVdqSE

‘XKeyscore presentation from 2008 – read in full’, theguardian.com, 31 July 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/world/interactive/2013/jul/31/nsa-xkeyscore-program-full-presentation

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