Marco Werman: I'm Marco Werman, this is "The World." Maybe if we were still using typewriters the NSA would have a harder time tracking us. But alas, the typewriter has almost disappeared from use. Almost, but not entirely, as we'll hear from India later in the program. The keyboard, though, is alive and well. Everywhere from your desktop, to your tablet, to your phone. Which brings us to the story of the day. President Obama announcing broad changes to the way the National Security Agency conducts surveillance. It was his response to months of embarrassing revelations based on documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Obama said he's ending the NSA's bulk collection of phone records as it currently exists and that the NSA will now need judicial permission before accessing that so called "metadata."
Barack Obama: The bottom line is that, people around the world, regardless of their nationality, should know that the United States is not spying on ordinary people who don't threaten our national security. We take their privacy concerns into account in our policies and procedures. This applies to foreign leaders as well.
Werman: In fact, Obama said the US will no longer eavesdrop on allied leaders, but the President forcefully defended the need for continuing American surveillance to help keep the world safe and in the face of spying by other countries.
Obama: We know that the intelligence services of other countries, including some of who feign surprise of the Snowden disclosures, are constantly probing our government and private sector networks, and accelerating programs to listen to our conversations and intercept our emails and compromise our systems. We know that. Meanwhile, a number of countries, including some who have loudly criticized the NSA, privately acknowledged that America has special responsibilities as the world's only superpower. That our intelligence capabilities are critical to meeting these responsibilities and that they themselves have relied on the information we obtain to protect their own people.
Werman: With his announcement today, President Obama was essentially telling Americans and the world, "Trust us. The US government will keep snooping for securities sake, but we will not abuse the data." So, do people around the globe trust Obama and America? We posed that question to some tech savvy and connected young people in different corners of the world. First up, Sana Saleem a leading blogger in Islamabad, Pakistan.
Sana Saleem: No, I don't trust the US government. I don't trust President Obama, and I don't trust the NSA, because I don't have the reason to trust them. But I have every reason to doubt them. It seems that the impression that the American authorities or the Presidency has is that foreigners are fair game and that we, by default from being from certain geographical locations or from a certain country, are fair game and should be surveilled for the national security purposes of Americans.
Werman: Is this an issue of trust generally in governments? How do you feel about your own government, because one of the things that has come out loud and clear since the NSA revelations is that a lot of countries spy on their own people.
Saleem: The Pakistan government has been known to spy on its own people. It's worse because we do not have the kind of rights or the kind of strong laws that people in the United States have, so of course, firstly, I do not trust my own government with my own data or any data. I would hold my government accountable, and of course secondly, because the American state has been found to be surveilling me and citizens in my country, I do not trust them either. So, I won't put my government to a different a standard than the American government. I don't trust either.
Werman: What does your digital trail say about who you are Sana?
Saleem: I don't know. That's the scary part. Being somebody who works in the internet space and works as a internet rights advocate, I don't think that there is something to me as a digital trail, because you don't know what information they're picking on, or what contact I'd spoken to at what point.
Werman: You must think periodically about guilt by association.
Saleem: Yes. Anything or anybody that you communicate with at any point - if they get into trouble because of anything - nothing that they've ever done, that you can always be held accountable. But that's not something new, as a Pakistani, as a green passport holder, as a woman with brown skin, I'm already under suspicion. I'm already the special person who gets the TSA patdown or who gets to be put in the scanner. It's not something new, but as it is, on top of that, you must also surveill my calls and must also surveill my text message and must also surveill my emails. Living without privacy is living without dignity, and that's primarily what it is. I don't live in fear that they're monitoring my calls, but it does make me feel that my dignity is being taken away from me.
Werman: Okay, so Sana in Pakistan doesn't trust the US and feels that surveillance tramples on her dignity. Here's a young techie in a very different part of the world. Christoph Derndorfer works in education technology in Vienna, Austria.
Christoph Derndorfer: Look, with all of this discussion, I see two levels. The first one is the philosophical level. Do we want to live in societies where there's constant surveillance of everything we do? On a personal level, I would say definitely no. But, the second question, which I don't think a lot of people actually consider, is it actually the right tool for this job? If the mission is to actually reduce terrorism or reduce the risk of terrorist threats, it's been interesting that there hasn't been too much data about what using all of those tools and the mass surveillance has really done. So, the question really beyond financial aspect, is does the cost/benefit ratio work for such a program. I would say no. I think it's an impractical tool to get done whatever they're trying to get done.
Werman: You take a very sober and practical approach to this dilemma.
Derndorfer: Well, my background is in computer science and software engineering, so you have somewhat of a feeling of what's possible on a technology level and almost anything can be done with technology. I'm really more worried about the societal implications and the political and policy implications of all of the things that are happening.
Werman: Christoph, I know you're in Vienna. Do you think you represent the 20-30 somethings there with your point of view?
Derndorfer: I honestly have no idea. I think some people, of course, have been shocked and outraged about it, but I really can't say whether or not I represent what most people think here.
Werman: Do you worry about the Austrian government spying on you?
Derndorfer: Maybe I should, but I don't think that they really have, on some level, the smarts to do that. Maybe that's naive, but the reality is that with the way the internet works, it is a very US-centric entity at the end of the day. We always believe that it's a global network, but the US, just because of the vast amount, or the size of US companies - Google, Apple - and the amount of money that the intelligence services are pouring into that, it really has a lot of influence on how the internet works. I'm really more worried about that kind of spying and the abuse data from anyone, once the data has been collected, rather than particularly the Austrian government, Austrian intelligence services spying on me or the population here.
Werman: What really worries Christoph in Austria is a possible overlap between American intelligence agencies and US-based internet giants. For Wafa Ben-Hassine, her biggest concern is what all this talk about NSA surveillance says about the US. She's an American of Tunisian descent and lives in the Netherlands. She's a law student and human rights advocate, and whose blog is called "The Poetic Politico."
Wafa Ben-Hassine: I think an important thing to remember here is that these types of practices do not represent what the United States of America stand for. As a country, we have made it known to the world that we stand for the values of democracy and liberty and civil liberties of any individual. I certainly don't think that this is a message that we want to portray to the world and that we have been portraying to the world, that we simply don't respect the very values that was espouse as a country.
Werman: What do you think of Edward Snowden? Do you think he did the right thing?
Ben-Hassine: That's always a difficult question to ask, but I'll tell you something, he definitely started a conversation. This conversation was started at a time that allowed individuals to find out more information through these revelations, and so just by starting that conversation, I believe a very big step has been taken forward.
Werman: That was Wafa Ben-Hassine, an american blogger living in the Netherlands. We also heard reaction to President Obama's announcement today from Christoph Derndorfer in Austria, and Sana Saleem in Pakistan.