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NEWSFLASH: Need-to-Know Stories 12/22 – 12/28

This week, a federal judge declared that the N.S.A.’s bulk telephone data collection program was indeed legal, fueling the right to privacy debate that entered the public eye when Edward Snowden exposed the federal agency’s surveillance programs in 2012. In Russia, all three jailed Pussy Riot members were freed along with 30 Greenpeace activists, a release that the former captives and experts have cautioned as a PR stunt by Russia before the Sochi Winter Olympics. But no bigger PR stunt was conducted this week than by Justine Sacco whose “racist” tweet about AIDS in South Africa traveled around the world and back, leaving the ex-PR firm exec to issue an apology after being fired from her job.

Welcome back to NEWSFLASH, giving you the week’s biggest stories!

Federal Judge Upholds N.S.A Telephone Data Collection

Federal Judge William H. Pauley III upheld the N.S.A.’s controversial phone data collection program on Friday, lending a new spin on the right to information privacy debate that has surrounded the security operation.

The ruling directly opposed another by another federal Judge, Richard J. Leon, in Washington who condemned the “almost Orwellian” nature of N.S.A. spying on Dec 16.

Judge Pauley’s decision stemmed from his belief that failure to track phone data could lead to more terrorist attacks on the U.S. He cited the 9/11 attacks as an example, stating that N.S.A. officials intercepted phone calls from the hijackers but could not legally collect their numbers to track them down.

The ruling comes days after former C.I.A. contractor Edward Snowden declared that his “[mission is] accomplished” following months of leaking N.S.A. surveillance program details from Moscow. Snowden obtained temporary amnesty from Russia last year, fleeing the U.S. after releasing confidential details on the N.S.A.’s PRISM operations.

The American Civil Liberties Union brought up the case to Judge Pauley in New York, and the organization intends to appeal the ruling.

Russia Frees Pussy Riot and Greenpeace Members

Russia followed their release of former oil tycoon Mikhail Khodorkovsky last week by freeing the three Pussy Riot band members and Greenpeace protestors held for opposing President Vladimir Putin’s policies.

Russian authorities took Maria Alyokhina, Nadezha Tolokonnikova and Yekaterina Samutsevich into custody in August 2012 and sentenced them to two years in prison for performing a crude anti-Putin song in a Moscow cathedral. The three women faced harsh prison conditions during their imprisonment, with Tolokonnikova being sent to a holding facility in Siberia.

The 30 Greenpeace activists, the vast majority of whom were foreigners, were held for 100 days on charges of hooliganism by the Russian government but also granted amnesty on Thursday.

All captives believe that their release hinged on Russia’s wish to improve their political image prior to the Winter Olympics in Sochi. The Pussy Riot members continue to heavily criticize Putin and are seeking to found their own human rights organization.

PR Firm Exec Apologizes for Racist Tweet Gone Viral

A former exec of public relations firm IAC apologized last Sunday for a “racist” tweet that was posted as a joke, but instead gave way to a mass outrage among Internet users that cost the exec her job.

Sacco, 30 and a native of South Africa, tweeted “Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!” before boarding an 11-hour flight to her home country.

Little did Sacco know that 11 hours later she would face the biggest PR storm of her life.

By the time Sacco stepped off her flight, the tweet had made its way around the Internet, sparking furious accusations that Sacco was “racist.” Sacco initially deleted the tweet without providing any comment or apology, and by Saturday IAC had fired her for failing to consider the consequences of her post.

Sacco apologized for the “needless and careless” tweet a day after, writing that she was “very sorry for the pain [she] caused.”

IAC has emphasized that Sacco’s mistake does not represent the company’s views or values.

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Annie Pei

U Chicago

Annie is a Political Science major at the University of Chicago who not only writes for Her Campus, but is also one of Her Campus UChicago's Campus Correspondents. She also acts as Editor-In-Chief of Diskord, an online op-ed publication based on campus, and as an Arts and Culture Co-Editor for the university's new Undergraduate Political Review. When she's not busy researching, writing, and editing articles, Annie can be found pounding out jazz choreography in a dance room, furiously cheering on the Vancouver Canucks, or around town on the lookout for new places, people, and things. This year, Annie is back in DC interning with Voice of America once again!
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