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Monday, 28 July 2014

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Extensive US Surveillance Program Uncovered

What are you willing to give up for security? Is freedom absolute, or are there some liberties that you would concede to the government? Furthermore, are there some things that the government should be allowed to keep a secret from you in the name of your safety? On June 5th, information leaked by Edward Snowden, a contractor working for the United States National Security Agency (NSA), revealed an unprecedented surveillance program. The agency has been collecting the telephone records of millions of customers of the company Verizon. In April, the secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Fisa) authorized the agency to collect data about calls, although not the contents of them or personal information of callers. Data collection of this kind was authorized under President George W. Bush, but until now it was not known whether President Barack Obama had continued it. The breadth of this is also unusual, as Fisa courts normally mandate the turnover of more targeted records. Later, another NSA program called Prism was uncovered that allows the government access into the systems of large internet companies. With this, the government can collect data including search history and the content of emails. Under Prism cases no longer require individual court authorization, and there must only be reasonable belief that the target is a foreigner. The US intelligence community defends the programs as an important tool to fight terrorists. Some, including many members of Congress, condemn this as an invasion of civil liberties, however, and are critical of the secrecy of the programs. These programs fall within existing laws, but their reveal has led to intense scrutiny. As you read through the perspectives, consider this: Should the government engage in surveillance for the sake of security, or not?

Attack on teen consumes Pakistan

Have you ever been attacked for standing up for your right to go to school? In the U.S. – at least after the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s – this idea has become virtually extinct. But there are other parts of the world which are going through a similar struggle right now. One such place is a region of Pakistan called the Swat Valley. Malala Yousufzai, a 14-year-old girl from Pakistan, was shot twice on her way home from school by the Taliban -- a militant movement that is widely classified as a terrorist group. She survived and is now recovering. Ms. Yousufzai has been standing up for education and women's rights since she was 11. She even wrote for the BBC about her life under the Taliban regime and their attempts to take over in Pakistan. She was also awarded the Pakistan's first National Youth Peace Prize. After the attack, a Taliban spokesperson claimed, "This [her outspokenness] was a new chapter of obscenity, and we have to finish this chapter." In other words, should she return to school, she will remain a target. Here is how we will begin to discuss this particular topic: The willingness to take the life of someone who has convictions that differ from your own is to abandon faith in the communication process. The act is particularly despicable given the target was a 14-year-old child. But we can’t let this cloud our ability to first understand the attacker's perspective. It is only when the motivation behind this act is properly understood that it can be universally condemned. So what were the Taliban's motivations? The Taliban believe that children should only receive an “Islamic education,” rather than instruction in math, science and other subjects. They believe girls should only be educated up to the age of 8, in order to "secure environments where the chasteness and dignity of women may once again be sacrosanct". However, another spokesperson for the Taliban stated that, "If anyone belives we had chosen Malala as a topic of education as a goal, they are mistaken. She was chosen because she plays a pioneering role in the spread of secularism, and the so-called enlightened moderation.” The attack, and its justifications, have been universally condemned in the world press. Consider the perspectives from all over the world. What do you believe is the strongest argument for condemnation? ...one that could create a worldwide consensus leading to unified action against the Taliban?

Iran Elects A New President

How can one person define a whole country's relationship with the rest of the world? Imagine you hold the highest elected office in a nation. You represent your country on the world stage, and you are trying to reverse the relationship left by your predecessor. How would you do this? Voters in Iran went to the polls on June 14th to elect a new president. Current President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who has had a difficult relationship with other world leaders, was legally prevented from seeking a third term. The election was contested between six conservative candidates approved by the Guardian Council, a powerful body of Islamic law experts selected by Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. With just over half of the vote, moderate cleric Hassan Rouhani, won out over the rest of the candidates, who were seen more as strict conservatives. Backed by reformers, Rouhani called his, “a victory for wisdom, moderation and maturity... over extremism." With this change of leadership, there is uncertainty how it will impact Iran’s relations with other countries, especially concerning its controversial nuclear program. Rouhani was a top nuclear negotiator, and in 2003 under former President Mohammad Khatami the country agreed to suspend uranium enrichment. The program later resumed, however, under the uncompromising Ahmadinejad, escalating international tensions. Rouhani campaigned promising to ease sanctions imposed against Iran for its nuclear program, and he is a proponent of engagement with world leaders. Some in the international community see his election as an opportunity to reduce pressure and improve relations with Iran over nuclear development. Many are skeptical, though, about his real power to promote change. As you read through the perspectives, consider this: Does Rouhani's election provide a real opportunity to ease tension and improve diplomacy concerning Iran's nuclear program, or are expectations of reform being exaggerated?

Brazil Protests Against the World Cup

Sports can often bring people together. Whether you’re bonding over the Super Bowl or cheering on your friends at a basketball game, sports can be a good way to connect with other people. However, a recent outburst in Brazil has shown that a large focus on sports can also have a downside, as over a million Brazilians are currently rebelling over the 2014 World Cup. The 2014 football World Cup, which will be hosted in Brazil, originally seemed like a good opportunity for the nation. However, it has been difficult for Brazil to ready itself in time for this event—between improving infrastructure, cleaning up the cities, and increasing tourist aspects, Brazil has become overwhelmed. Recently, its citizens took to the streets in massive protest against, initially, the high ticket prices of the World Cup. Soon, however, the protests spread to be against corruption and violence, as Brazilian citizens are upset that so much money is being spent on this event. As you read through the perspectives, consider this: Should Brazilians embrace the World Cup as a good opportunity for their country, or are they right to be upset with their government?

UN Prepares Unprecedented Intervention in Democratic Republic of Congo

Imagine you lead an international organization. You represent the entire world, and your mission is simply to maintain peace while remaining neutral. In the interest of accelerating peace, would you ever consider actually using violence? And in especially difficult conflicts, would it ever be right to favor one side over another to bring security faster? The Democratic Republic of Congo is part of a region that has long been plagued by armed conflict. There are numerous facets to these hostilities, dating from the 1994 genocide in neighboring Rwanda. Within DR Congo the main conflict is between government forces and rebel groups, primarily the M23. The situation is unfavorable, with accusations that bordering nations even support certain rebel groups. Currently, just less than 20,000 United Nations peacekeepers and international police are in DR Congo to provide non-violent security, only fighting in self-defense. Despite their presence for over a decade, however, these forces with limited capabilities have done little to reduce fighting. In March, the UN approved an unprecedented “offensive” force of 2,500 troops to enhance peacekeeping efforts. Set to arrive in July, this “intervention brigade” has a wider mandate to “disarm” and “neutralize” armed rebels, and to monitor the flow of arms and military personnel from neighboring countries. According to the UN this is an exceptional situation and is not meant to set a precedent for future peacekeeping efforts. Some are skeptical, though, contending additional forces may not bring peace, and asking whether it is the UN's right to use military force. As you read through the perspectives, consider this: Should the UN use offensive peacekeeping forces to fight rebel groups, or should it limit itself to its traditional role of providing security neutrally and with limited force?