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NSA planned to discredit Islamic radicals by spying on their porn habits

NSA spy 2The Huffington Post reports that a new document supplied by whistleblower Edward Snowden shows the NSA targeted six Muslims identified as ‘radicalizers’, in the hope of catching them accessing porn o, otherwise engaging in  online sexual activity that could be used to discredit them and undermine their authority.

The NSA were looking for ‘vulnerabilities’ that ‘if exposed, would most likely call  into question a radicalizer’s devotion to the jihadist cause, leading to the degradation or loss of his authority.’

Examples of vulnerabilities given include ‘viewing sexually explicit material or using sexually explicit persuasive when communicating with inexperienced girls’.

Although the names of the targets have been redacted from the released document, it is believed that five of them live outside the US and the other is either a US citizen or permanent resident. None of the targets are accused of being involved in terrorism, although the NSA claims they were radicalizing people through social media platforms such as Facebook and YouTube.

Shawn Turner, director of public affairs for National Intelligence, defended the actions of the NSA saying ‘it should not be surprising that the US Government uses all of the lawful tools at our disposal to impede the efforts of valid terrorist targets who seek to harm the nation and radicalize others to violence’, but as deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union Jameel Jaffer observed, this raises important concerns about potential abuse of NSA powers,

‘It’s important to remember that the NSA’s surveillance activities are anything but narrowly focused – the agency is collecting massive amounts of sensitive information about virtually everyone. Wherever you are, the NSA’s databases store information about your political views, your medical history, your intimate relationships and your activities online. The NSA says this personal information won’t be abused, but these documents show that the NSA probably defines ‘abuse’ very narrowly.’

Now we are not going to pass judgment on whether the targets were ‘valid terrorist targets’ (although the document itself admits that three of the targets had only ‘minimal terrorist contacts’), but we are very uncomfortable with the total lack of ethical or legal restraints on the NSA’s actions. As the Huff Post points out,

U.S. officials have in the past used similar tactics against civil rights leaders, labor movement activists and others. Under J. Edgar Hoover, the FBI harassed activists and compiled secret files on political leaders, most notably Martin Luther King, Jr. The extent of the FBI’s surveillance of political figures is still being revealed to this day, as the bureau releases the long dossiers it compiled on certain people in response to Freedom of Information Act requests following their deaths. The information collected by the FBI often centered on sex — homosexuality was an ongoing obsession on Hoover’s watch — and information about extramarital affairs was reportedly used to blackmail politicians into fulfilling the bureau’s needs.’

With no form of oversight, we just have to trust the NSA and US government not to abuse their powers and to ‘do the right thing’, a moral trust that an increasingly large number of us simply don’t have.

We will finish by noting that for those who wish to keep their private internet habits private, VPNs are great way to keep prying eyes away from your online activities (and perhaps avoid embarrassing conversations with the ‘other half!).


Douglas Crawford I am a freelance writer, technology enthusiast, and lover of life who enjoys spinning words and sharing knowledge for a living. Find me on Google+

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