Jack Tame: Phone and email spying hardly a shock in land of the free

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Fat cash. A pretty girlfriend. Hawaiian sun. Travel. And power.

Edward Snowden had a life that superficially sounded nothing short of idyllic. And for some reason - whether truly motivated by his inner conscience and a profound belief in liberty or by something a little less righteous - he threw it away with a few leaked documents revealing the reach of the US National Security Agency.

But the actual detail of what Snowden revealed is nothing overly surprising. Few Americans will have been breathless with shock to learn their Government has searched their phone logs and email addresses for potential links to terrorists. Even the civil liberty groups now suing the NSA admit prior knowledge, albeit fragmented, of blanket data-seizing by US authorities.

Indeed the real shock, especially given all the big-name corporates that may have previously supplied court-ordered data, is that Edward Snowden's leaked information wasn't widely publicised much earlier.

Snowden had "Top Secret" level security clearance.

It sounds flash: the sort of thing that would look great on a business card. And, as might be expected, the requirements to qualify were noticeably more robust than for a weekend shift at KFC.

His family would have had to have been interviewed. His finances and social media links would've been examined. And before being granted clearance and beginning his work, Snowden would have undergone a polygraph test.

Which all sounds very thorough. But, by his annual report last year, the US Director of National Intelligence counts 1.4 million Americans with the same level of security clearance. Another 3.5 million have so-called "Secret" level clearance, which makes for some five million fancy business cards, all up.

Five million. With a number like that, "Secret Clearance" seems a bit tongue in cheek.

The problem with pooling big data is that it takes big processing.

For all the phone taps and email logs and everything being gathered, first Bradley Manning and now Edward Snowden have reminded the US powers-that-be of the one factor they can never defy.

It was the same factor that led sworn-to-secrecy Navy Seals to write about killing bin Laden. The very same reason 9/11 could never have been a government-orchestrated cover-up.

Whether hero or traitor, Edward Snowden has shown strength and fickleness, cunning and unpredictability: the human factor.

- Herald on Sunday

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