Expert: Individuals ‘Desensitized,’ ‘Numb’ To Privacy Threats

WASHINGTON (CBSDC/AP) — A 29-year-old intelligence contractor who claims to have worked at the National Security Agency and the CIA allowed himself to be revealed Sunday as the source of disclosures about the U.S. government’s secret surveillance programs, risking prosecution by the U.S. government.

The Guardian, the first paper to disclose the documents, said it was publishing the identity of Edward Snowden, a former technical assistant for the CIA and current employee of defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton, at his own request.

“My sole motive is to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them,” Snowden told the newspaper.

The Guardian also recently published a classified court document from April that authorized the government to seize all of Verizon’s phone records on a daily basis — an estimated 3 billion phone calls a day. The government didn’t eavesdrop on anyone (under this court order, at least), but it is said to have received all outgoing and incoming numbers for every call, plus the unique electronic fingerprints that identify cellphones.

An email obtained by CBSDC that was shared with Verizon employees by Randy Milch, who is the Verizon executive vice president and general counsel, acknowledged news coverage of the court order sent to them by the government, but did not offer insight as to the validity of either the leaked documents or the press coverage surrounding them.

The circulated notice also said that “the alleged court order” included language that compelled action from Verizon while simultaneously not allowing the company to publicly disclose its existence.

“Verizon continually takes steps to safeguard its customers’ privacy,” the email additionally noted. “Nevertheless, the law authorizes the federal courts to order a company to provide information in certain circumstances, and if Verizon were to receive such an order, we would be required to comply.”

Verizon declined to comment further on the matter to CBSDC.

The leaks have reopened the post-Sept. 11 debate about privacy concerns versus heightened measures to protect against terrorist attacks, and led the NSA to ask the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation into the leaks.

The news has also created a heated national discussion among pundits regarding governmental invasions of privacy. Some business experts, however, feel that many American citizens may not share the visceral reactions shown in the national news media as clients – not because of a lack of concern, but rather, a lack of surprise.

“I expect that most individuals are so desensitized by constant warnings of cyber-threats, identity theft, phishing, and related potential violations of privacy that they might be numb to such concerns,” Ramon J. Aldag, Glen A. Skillrud Family Chair in Business at the School of Business at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, told CBSDC.

Aldag additionally noted that Verizon’s business would likely not suffer in the wake of the scandal.

“In general, attribution theory would predict that Verizon subscribers … would consider the fact that Verizon had no choice in providing the material, was thus was a victim of ‘the power of the situation,’ and shouldn’t be blamed,” he said. “If, as President Obama and others have been claiming, this does not permit access to individual subscribers’ information, there may be less concern.”

Others who, like Aldag, spoke to CBSDC from the perspective of being concerned citizens and business experts  – including Dilip Chhajed, a professor and associate head of business administration at the College of Business at the University of Illinois and Arthur Centonze, an associate professor and dean emeritus at the Lubin School of Business at Pace University – agreed with Aldag’s assessment.

“I do not think Verizon is at fault here – they were merely following court orders. They will not lose business because every major phone company may be doing this,” Chhajed observed.

Said Centonze, “It’s likely that other mobile service providers provided the same information to the NSA. So no, I don’t think they will lose business. Where would customers go? Besides it’s apparently legal under the Patriot Act.”

Chhajed also touched upon the concept of “giv[ing] up some of our freedom to protect the rest of our system … if we want to be ‘free.'”

“Assuming that there was a very good national security reason to collect the phone records, the implication is that post 9/11 we have surrendered many of our privacy rights,” he told CBSDC. “This seems to be the trade-off.”

He added, “It is similar to the privacy issues with [I]nternet. Companies track our clicks to be able to customize our web experience. But in return for this enhance[d] web experience, we allow them to collect our data.”

The phone records monitoring program reportedly allowed the NSA to create a database through which it can learn whether terror suspects have been in contact with people in the U.S. The Obama administration says the NSA program does not listen to actual conversations.

Separately, an Internet scouring program, code-named PRISM, allows the NSA and FBI to tap directly into nine U.S. Internet companies to gather all Internet usage — audio, video, photographs, emails and searches. The effort is designed to detect suspicious behavior that begins overseas.

The National Security Agency filed a criminal report with the Justice Department earlier this week in relation to the leaks. The director of national intelligence, James Clapper, has stated repeatedly that the NSA’s programs do not target U.S. citizens and that the agency uses a process known as “minimization” to sift out data from “any U.S. persons whose communications might be incidentally intercepted.”

His statement Saturday said that “the dissemination of information about U.S. persons is expressly prohibited unless it is necessary to understand foreign intelligence … is evidence of a crime or indicates a threat of death or serious bodily harm.”

Obama declared Friday that America is “going to have to make some choices” balancing privacy and security, launching a vigorous defense of formerly secret programs that sweep up an estimated 3 billion phone calls a day and amass Internet data from U.S. providers in an attempt to thwart terror attacks.

He warned that it will be harder to detect threats against the U.S. now that the two top-secret tools to target terrorists have been so thoroughly publicized.

At turns defensive and defiant, Obama stood by the spy programs.

“Nobody is listening to your telephone calls,” Obama assured the nation after two days of reports that many found unsettling. What the government is doing, he said, is digesting phone numbers and the durations of calls, seeking links that might “identify potential leads with respect to folks who might engage in terrorism.” If there’s a hit, he said, “if the intelligence community then actually wants to listen to a phone call, they’ve got to go back to a federal judge, just like they would in a criminal investigation.”

(TM and © Copyright 2013 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2013 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)