US surveillance claims split opinion

Edward Snowden, GCHQ, man using computer, woman on phone

Opinion is divided at news that the US has gathered millions of phone calls and monitored internet use on a massive scale.

The revelations have come from a whistleblower, former CIA employee Edward Snowden.

In the UK, suggestions that the government data-gathering service GCHQ has also accessed the material have prompted discussions about civil liberties, national security and legality.

Here are a selection of those opinions.


"Tech companies from the giants down to early-stage start-ups are building business models predicated on the assumption that we will mortgage our identities for convenience. Of course governments and the security services will also capitalise on that," he writes.

"Snowden has shown incredible courage and we should heed his words. Like him, I'm 29 years old. I spent the first part of my career talking up the amazing possibilities of technology but I can't take the gibbering false sincerity of Silicon Valley at face value any longer. Nor can I blindly accept a future where privacy is meaningless and passive acquiescence to surveillance culture is the price of living."


"Billions of people worldwide have struck a deal with the online communications companies: they have handed over their most personal data, in exchange for the convenience of accessing and sharing it easily," he writes.

"They have now been confronted with the costs of that deal: ceding control of your data means that the government in whose jurisdiction the companies are based can exert control over it too.

"What's interesting is the number of people who still feel the deal is worth maintaining."


"It shouldn't be too shocking that the US government spies on its citizens," he says. "What may be more surprising is just how far-reaching, and possibly unconstitutional, this program is. Perhaps the most significant part will be the fallout now that the secrets are out in the open."


"I do not see what the fuss is about. I would be dismayed if the NSA [US National Security Agency] and GCHQ were not doing such things. However, I do not believe it is worth recreating the BT monopoly as part of a vain attempt to expensively prop up a surveillance strategy that is fast becoming obsolete," he writes.

"I would far rather we looked forward to a world of genuine partnerships in 'civil defence' as well as 'policing' that are genuinely fit for the online world."


"States are hungry for information on their citizens: well, plus ça change," she writes. What's shocking is that we now make it so shockingly easy for them, by putting it all out there. At least Faust sold his soul for unlimited knowledge and worldly pleasures. We cheerfully prostituted ours in return for somewhere to post the baby pictures, and a few pounds off the supermarket shopping.

"Personal data has simply become the way we pay for things we don't want to buy with actual money."


"The mass gathering and storage by Washington (and we assume London) of every citizen's electronic communication - 'we hack everyone, everywhere' is the motto - has handed Osama bin Laden his last great coup...," he writes.

"Governments always claim such intrusions are 'within the law'. But as we saw after 9/11, it defines the law. 'We collect significant information on bad guys, but only bad guys,' said the White House. The British foreign secretary, William Hague, claims 'the law-abiding citizen has nothing to fear.' It is the cliche of the police state throughout history."


"Until this week we hadn't heard of Prism, the ultra-sophisticated computer system that allows the US government to monitor online communications across the globe. But frankly, why the hell should we have heard of it? That's the whole point of covert surveillance. The clue is in the name," he writes.

"The liberal and conservative commentariat has joined in unholy alliance, and is now roaming the airwaves condemning this dangerous assault on democracy. What they're ignoring is that this is actually how democracy works. Even in a free society, the state has to have some secrets."


"Unwarranted government surveillance is an intrusion on basic human rights that threatens the very foundations of a democratic society.

"Over the last two decades, the Web has become an integral part of our lives. A trace of our use of it can reveal very intimate personal things. A store of this information about each person is a huge liability: whom would you trust to decide when to access it, or even to keep it secure?"


"Shock horror! Hold the front page. It turns out the internet is a gigantic snooperama, a sinister governmental periscope inside your most personal electronic possession - by which THEY can keep a watch on YOU," he writes in the Daily Telegraph.

"My only question is: what on earth did you expect? I have never trusted the security of the internet, or emails, or indeed texts - because it was obvious from the very dawn of what was once called the information superhighway that any data you sent to some server or database or gizmo could no longer be in any sense private."


"These reports suggest a breach of trust on the grandest scale with the US government, Internet Service Providers and our own UK intelligence community showing contempt for privacy, legality and democracy itself.

"Don't we still believe that spies should be accountable to the public they serve and protect? This is the kind of arrogance behind the attempted 'snoopers' charter'. Have those who failed to persuade in the Parliament chamber decided to smuggle blanket surveillance in through the back door?"


"The explosion of electronic communications in this century gave spies, terrorists and criminals many more communications options, making interception harder," he writes in the Daily Telegraph. "In order to keep on top of what ill-wishers were doing, interception had to be widened to include data-trawling, which involves scanning millions of communications for key words or numbers.

"It is partly through this means that networks are identified - you discover with whom a suspected terrorist is working. But you can't get that information without trawling the data of millions of innocent people, because that's where it's hidden.

"That the NSA and GCHQ should share such information ought to be a cause of comfort rather than concern. They don't gather information for the sake of it - they do it to keep us safer."


Hundreds of BBC News website readers have commented on the story.

"The internet comes at a price... Yes, your civil liberties will be eroded. There's nothing you can do about this except quit using the internet or stick to trusted websites. If you don't do anything wrong then you have nothing to fear." Dave

"You can't relinquish freedom for security. We will surely lose both if we do." Tony Hall

"Our superior intelligence gathering helped us win WW2... In a conflict knowing what your opponent [is] going to do and being able to plan without them knowing is a huge strategic advantage. It is vital that we have a government empowered with data and not compromised by leaks." Sunday Morning Dandruff

"I'm far more scared of governments who *want* me to be frightened of terrorist attacks than I am of being attacked by terrorists." Peggy-sue

"Unfortunately, it's politically incorrect to target certain groups, so the entire population needs to be under limited surveillance, and that's fine by me. The real threat from the 'cloud' is the large amount of very private data currently passed around the internet by companies for the purpose of making money." Phil Fyles

"William Hague: 'Law abiding citizens have nothing to fear.' Who is a law abiding citizen? Our law is based on the principle: 'Innocent until proven guilty.' Proven guilty in a court, by a jury of our peers. It now appears that principle is: 'Potentially guilty until proven innocent.' Proven innocent by the security services." billyhano

"Hurrah - strike one for the bad guys. Edward Snowden is incredibly naïve if he thinks this will do anything but help terrorism. Look out for more attacks which the authorities are unable to defend against because they can't intercept the intelligence." thrill_vermilion

"This sort of snooping creates a bit of a paradox. Here in Britain we insist on freedom of speech etc. We must then combat those who would take it, and other freedoms, away from us. To do that effectively means listening everywhere to identify those who would try to wrest our freedoms from us." David Horton