The Declaration of Independence declares that all beings living within the United States have certain “unalienable rights, among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.” But, through the recent years, the ever-so-controversial debate between privacy vs security is encroaching on our liberties as people and as citizens of the United States.
Ashkan Soltani, an independent security researcher, states “The NSA has this fetish for data, and will get it any way they can, and get as much as they can,” he said. “But old ladies who hoard newspapers say the same thing, that someday, this might be useful.” It can be said that September 11, 2001 was the turning point for privacy and security in the United States. With the existential threat of terrorism on our soil, the most important job of the government became to “secure the general welfare” of its citizens. October 1 of 2001, George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT ACT which stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. This act largely allowed the government to actively watch and follow threats to national and international security without the knowledge or approval of the individual being watched. “The government feels like they need all this information in order to do its job, that there can’t be security without them having access to everything. Well, that’s a lazy or shortsighted way of seeing things,” Soltani says. “The idea I reject is that you need to violate everyone’s privacy rather than be better at your job of identifying specific (targets).”
“You can’t have 100 percent security and also have 100 percent privacy,” President Obama said on June 7 in his address to the nation. Surveillance is thought of as a method of protection. Through the years, old fashioned spy craft was used to locate and surveil a target. The FBI, CIA, local police, or other governmental agency would stake out a potential target to watch their movements, see who they are meeting with, take note of their daily routines, etc. They would stake out one “target,” not two or ten thousand or ten million. Today, you must think on a larger scale. Think of the FBI agents as computer bots that are allowed to search and filter through thousands and thousands of lines of data in a matter of a seconds. The NSA took this in stride and take advantage of the huge amounts of data being collected by companies around the globe by gaining access each individual system both legally and illegally. They promptly labeled everyone as a potential terrorist (or target), allowing them to collect data on citizens for matter of prevention of terrorism.
Edward Snowden, now known as an NSA Whistle Blower, previously worked for the CIA and was a consultant for the NSA. He is known for leaking thousands of classified documents because of his outrage with some of the NSA’s global surveillance programs. “I took an oath to support and defend the constitution and what I saw was the constitution being violated on a massive scale,” he said in his video conference call at SXSW. Snowden approached two reporters Laura Poitras and Glenn Greenwald who eventually leaked the classified documents provided by Snowden through their press channels. The files shed light to the complete nature of the USA’s global surveillance network — one that works for the mass collection of private conversations and metadata. Conversations, text messages, and emails are just the beginning. “Metadata is what allows an actual enumerated understanding, a precise record of all the private activities in all of our lives. It shows our associations, our political affiliations and our actual activities,” said Snowden via the Amnesty International Video Call. Some call him a hero others a traitor, but Snowden opened the public’s eyes to a major problem for our security and privacy as individuals, the potential affects this collection could have on us, and the absolute power given to the US Intelligence community.
“The problem is when overseers aren’t interested in oversight,” Snowden said at SXSW. If the people in power feel as though they can do whatever they would like the checks and balances within the government have failed. Lincoln’s idea of a government “of the people, by the people, for the people” has no longer been upheld, but rather the people become pawns in a bigger government bureaucracy. The Constitution, Bill of Rights and their previsions were put into effect to protect the rights and liberties of people within a free nation. We are no longer free. “We can’t have a government that has no oversight. We can’t have an intelligence community that can do whatever the hell they want,” Paul Rand said at the Freedom Summit, a gathering of grassroots conservatives hosted by the groups Citizens United and Americans for Prosperity. So where do we draw the line between security and privacy?
It’s hard to say. The government’s roll is to protect its citizens, create opportunity, and provide services for the greater good. Does security come first, privacy last, or visa versa? We must heed the actions of Edward Snowden, take notice of the illegalities, and promote change to encourage national security, anonymity, and individual freedom. If we believe that it is a bigger beast than we can handle and simply give up, we have lost the battle. With technological innovation, surveillance will continue to get more and more sophisticated, and our entire lives will live within our digital footprint. If nothing else, be educated and understand the power of your government and the programs that they have instituted. Read, question, analyze, and share your thoughts. This is the beginning to important modification and advancement to our national and international security protocols.