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#Compliance: NSA program sparks discussion on online privacy issues

An NSA program's surveillance activities are leading to discussions on online privacy issues and widely varying opinions on where to draw the line.

Social media is a great tool for reaching out to and connecting with like-minded professionals in the compliance space. However, between the speed of business and healthy doses of incoming work, it's tough to babysit a Facebook profile or a Google Plus stream, and you always feel like you miss the best tweets. We get that. That's why we're mining our list of GRC literati for their nuggets of insight, wisdom and the occasional chuckle.

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Discussions about national security and online privacy issues -- specifically, where to draw the line between the two -- have abounded since news broke that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) has access to information about a large segment of Internet traffic. Under a classified NSA program named PRISM, the organization is allowed, under certain circumstances, to mine Internet data from domestic and social media companies for counterterrorism and foreign intelligence. The NSA program was revealed by the British newspaper The Guardian, just days after it reported Verizon was ordered by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to turn over the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers for intelligence purposes.

Through the PRISM program, the NSA has direct access to the systems of such Internet giants as Google, Facebook and Apple, according to The Guardian report. The program allows officials to collect online materials, including search histories and email content, a fact that has infuriated online privacy advocates.

President Barack Obama defended the NSA program, and noted that modest privacy encroachments are necessary in the face of growing terrorist threats. But the Internet wasn't assuaged, as many on Twitter expressed concerns about the privacy ramifications of the NSA program:

Some in the Twitterverse took a more lighthearted approach to these online privacy issues, and saw some potential benefits to the NSA's access to their Verizon phone records:

Others failed to see the reason for the controversy, especially in an age in which many people constantly post personal information willingly and without concern for their privacy:

Still others pointed out that these surveillance programs are nothing new: Leaders from the Senate Intelligence Committee said they have been in place since 2006, and that Congress has full knowledge of the practice. Some took lawmakers to task for this revelation, and said the NSA surveillance programs are just a continuation of surveillance practices that began under the Patriot Act:

Attention to the NSA program shifted abruptly this week, when The Guardian revealed that the source of the leaks is Edward Snowden, a 29-year-old former CIA technical staff member who has worked at the NSA as an employee of outside contractors. Snowden told reporters he leaked the activity so American people could talk about online privacy issues and decide whether the surveillance activities were right or wrong. He's currently holed up in a hotel in Hong Kong, and could face the rest of his life in jail for the leak.

What do you think? Are the NSA's PRISM program and other surveillance efforts a violation of your privacy, or is the agency taking necessary steps in the face of terrorism? Voice your concerns in the comments. We'd love to hear from you.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Ben Cole, associate editor. For more regulatory compliance news and updates throughout the week, follow us on Twitter @ITCompliance.

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