We identified three groups who are the primary stakeholders in the discussion over the proper strength of the NSA. These three groups are the United States government, US Federal Agencies, and citizens. Within the US government, all three branches of government (the executive, legislative, and judiciary) have a certain amount of stake in this debate. However, we believe that the legislative branch is the greatest stakeholder of the three because the NSA exists in part to provide Congress with intelligence information that it uses to make policy decisions. Since the NSA acts as an information source for the Legislature, any revisions to its defined powers could potentially change drastically the methods in which Congress receives information. Additionally, the NSA is authorized by federal law, and hence the Congress is the ultimate decision maker on the existence of the organization, and any legislation mandating changes to the organization would have to be passed through the branch. The President would ultimately have to sign any legislation passed by the Congress in order for any change to take place, and the Judiciary could become involved if the NSA is ever a part of a Supreme Court case hearing. Despite these connections to the organization, neither the executive nor judicial branches have nearly the same connection to the NSA and any policy regarding its authorization nor make-up as the legislative branch does.
The second stakeholder that we identified are US federal agencies, including the NSA itself. Any policy change in this issue has no greater effect on any agency then the NSA, as modifications could potentially change everything from its information collection methodologies to its disclosure procedures to its daily operations. Another federal agency that would be the Department of Defense (DoD). According to the NSA’s website, the organization “has provided timely information to U.S. decision makers and military leaders for more than half a century” (National Security Agency, 2011). Like the US Congress, all branches of the US military rely on the NSA for critical information as they “deliver critical strategic and tactical information to war planners and war fighters” (National Security Agency, 2011). Because the NSA works so closely the with many different agencies, like the DoD, the ripple effects of changes made to the NSA would be felt in organizations across the US federal agency structure.
The final key stakeholders in the debate over the scope of the NSA are citizens, including those domestic and foreign. Domestic citizens are the ones the immediately come to mind as stakeholders, as they reside in the NSA’s home country, and they are one of the primary sources for the information that the NSA collects and distributes to federal decision makers. Combine this with the fact that many of the conspiracy theories regarding the NSA and its true scope and intentions are generated from public opinion, and American public very quickly becomes a key player in this argument. However, citizen stakeholders are not limited to US citizens; it also includes many foreign citizens from nations across the globe. The NSA is a strong part of the global Intelligence Community, and the organization collects information on all sorts of individuals and happenings from all over the world. Therefore, foreign citizens also have key interests in the NSA and policies surrounding its existence and management, even if those interests are more indirect than their domestic counterparts.
Social Media Sentiment Analysis
As the usage of social media has exploded worldwide, an increasingly large number of people have used this borderless platform to express their viewpoints on current events and issues of policy. As NSA informant Edward Snowden and the news media have brought the NSA and its powers back into the public eye, the discussion spread to the social media space, where both the American and international public could voice their opinions to the world. Since this platform is such a critical part the communication network of the public, we believe that it is important to examine social reaction from this space in order to get a simple picture into the thoughts of the public.
We chose to analyze Twitter using a tool called Sentiment140, which queries Twitter for tweets that relate to a search term provided by the user, and returns not only posts that relate to and contain the search term, but also the tools estimate of the sentiment of the post. Posts are denoted as either “positive” or “negative”, and the results of each query are displayed in a pie graph showing the percentage of positive to negative sentiment and as a horizontal bar graph displaying the number of posts that are denoted as positive or negative.
There are several limitations with the Sentiment140 tool that we had to take into consideration as we decided to use the tool. First, the sample size that Sentiment140 pulls is small, because it only queries Twitter data from approximately the last hour. For some searches, this provides a sizable sample of posts. However, for other queries, the sample sizes can be about 20 or smaller, as was the case for our query for posts related to the NSA. We kept this small sample size in mind as we analyzed our query results. Additionally, the tool is unable to determine sentiment that is hidden in the nuances of language, such as sarcasm. Therefore, some posts have their sentiment miscoded, resulting in misleading sentiment data. To account for this, after running each query, we examined the individual posts in order to achieve a more accurate determination of the post’s sentiment. Finally, if the tool cannot denote the sentiment of a tweet as positive or negative, it is not assigned any sentiment for that post. Despite this limitation, we felt that it was important to include all of the tweets pulled by the query. Therefore, we denoted these posts as having “neutral” sentiment. By conducting further analysis of the query results through individual post examination and denoting posts as neutral where appropriate, we established adjusted results that we used as our primary tool for analysis.
Using the Sentiment140 tool, we conducted two separate queries: one for the search term “National Security Agency” and one for the term “NSA”. Our “National Security Agency” query netting a sample size of four, of which two observations were not assigned a sentiment, and hence were not included in the tool’s visualization. Our “NSA” query resulted in a sample size of thirty-six, including ten posts without a denoted sentiment. The original results for both queries, as provided by Sentiment140, are provided below in Figure X.
Once we ran our queries, we then examined the individual posts pulled by Sentiment140. Both of the posts in the “National Security Agency” query that were denoted as positive should have been denoted as negative, and the unsentimented posts were denoted as neutral. Next, as we reassigned sentiments for the “NSA” query as we felt was fit, we say a drastic shift from the sentiment being positive overall to being negative. Additionally, we had to remove eight tweets from the sample size, as they contained content that was irrelevant to our search on the National Security Agency. We then decided to combine our adjusted sentiment analysis into one data set of thirty-two observations, considering the small sample size and the relative closeness of each query’s search term. The results from this exercise are shown below in Figure XX.
From this analysis, we feel that we can have a good understanding of public opinion and sentiment in regards to the NSA. Our analysis showed that, for our sample size of thirty-two, 66% of the tweets displayed a negative sentiment towards the NSA. Furthermore, only 9% of the sample posts had a positive sentiment. The remaining 25% of the posts were denoted as neutral, which included posts by the NSA advertising career opportunities with the agency. Because two thirds of the Twitter posts we analyzed displayed a negative sentiment towards the agency, we might say that overall, the public does not hold the NSA in its highest regard. Based on this conjecture, we could say that the public would be in support of either weakening the NSA’s scope and powers or eliminating the agency all together. We believe that the public may have this view because they view the debate of NSA surveillance as an issue of their own personal information security. This viewpoint, however, ignores many of the other sides of this argument, including the importance of the NSA for maintaining national information security and for providing information to the US government and military.
Although this logic may be in line with what we see in our own social media dealings on a daily basis, we do not take this analysis as sound proof of this point. Because our sample size is very small and our final resulting data required significant amounts of manual adjustments, we feel that these results would not be viable as an effective tool to make policy decisions. However, it does provide us with some early direction as to what the public sentiment might be if we were to conduct a large scale public opinion given more time and adequate funding for such a study. If such a study were to be conducted, we would hypothesize that the sentiment of public opinion on the NSA would be negative overall, and that the public would likely support an NSA that has less strength than it does presently, if they were to even support its existence.