This past week, most of the top news sites have been plastered with non stop updates on the NSA privacy scandal, and for good reason. But it’s become difficult to tell how much of these reports are fact and how much is inference. It certainly doesn’t help that the authorities behind it all seem to be downplaying the chain of events and/or not telling the American public what they need to hear. Obama did release this statement, however:
“I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 per cent security and also then have 100 per cent privacy and zero inconvenience,”
President Obama, I believe that is certainly true. At the same time, it would be impossible to have any one of the three, so that’s not saying much. You are putting words in our mouths if you claim we expect to be perfectly secure or perfectly private. We know there are dangers, both foreign and domestic, and we know that our lives are becoming less and less private every day. Please don’t forget, there is a middle ground- there is not only extremely safe and incredibly unsafe. That put aside, what I know you should be trying to say is that the American people need to understand that they will have to sacrifice some of their privacy in order to make the US more secure from any number of threats. The question is, how much should be sacrificed?
First let me review what I believe is the case with this recent NSA situation, based on articles I have read, one of which has direct quotes from a former NSA official, as well as some lackluster statements made by government officials.
- The NSA has one or more massive data centers that are highly guarded and top secret.
- The NSA has commissioned the construction of some of the worlds fastest computers in order to help break encrypted files.
- The NSA has been collecting phone data for years.
- The NSA has access to large amounts of data from some of the top tech companies in the country. It is not clear how much access they have nor how much the companies are aware of this.
- The NSA does not seem to care about collecting only suspicious data, and has ignored suggestions to help build such a system to do so.
- The government claims that data is managed with trust by the NSA, though they seemingly have access to as much as they can get their hands on.
Now let me tell you why this is wrong, Mr. President.
The case for American security is that the government needs access to personal information in order to catch criminal activity. This makes sense. If you can catch a plot before it goes down, you have a chance to save lives, and protect America from harm. But there is a limit to what is acceptable.
But data requests from phone providers and large data harvesting technology corporations need only be fulfilled on a warrant with suspicion basis. Having access to the entirety of America’s personal data can only do harm. As far as I am aware, the American people have never signed over 100% of their privacy to the government, so I call it unconstitutional. What’s worse is that I’ve learned there are secret courts where these matters are discussed. I’m not a whiz on American government, but how is it acceptable for America’s constitutional rights to be discussed by courts that have agreed to take them away?
You say that the government is not listening to the calls of American people, but statements from officials from your secret government seem to disagree. Calls (and emails!) were examined - and private conversations were listened to. Nevertheless, you don’t dispute the fact that the NSA is sifting through all of our information. It is then safe to say that the NSA has a shit ton of data on everyone, not just suspected terrorists, not just foreigners, not just interactions between Americans and foreigners, but everyone.
Data provides power, Mr.President, and power can be abused.
The constitution is in place to keep government and American liberties and freedoms in check, but it seems you and your government are ignoring this. There is no longer a check on the NSA, and they now have the power to provide the rest of the government with information that can feed corruption and bias. The people have been given no say in their personal liberties in this matter.
A common retort seems to be, “if you have nothing to hide, why should you care?”. In response I say this- if the American people have no reason to be concerned about the overbearing power of your program, why have you been hiding it from us?
In the 21st century, so much of our lives depends on technology, and more recently, the cloud. We put trust in software and programs that make our lives easier and more manageable. We trust companies like Google, Microsoft, and Apple. Sure, people hate their phone bills, but they put trust in phone companies too. Most of us are fully aware that these companies have large amounts of data on us. We know that much of this data is sold to advertisers, yet we give in to it everyday. We let games and apps access our Facebook accounts, we carry around smartphones made by these large companies that can provide our locations to apps that request it from us, and most of the time, we give in.
Why do we give in? Why do provide our personal information to large corporations? Well, sometimes we don’t. That’s one reason. While some information id collected from us whether we like it or not, we are often in control of our data, or at least under the illusion that we are. We are happier to hand over our lives to companies and organizations that give us a choice. Sometimes we feel that providing our data is beneficial to us. We know that many of these companies are innovative and while they care most about profits, they will hopefully do good with our data. Sure they’ll make money off it, but it will often be beneficial to us- we often trust these companies know how to handle things better than the government could.
The NSA’s unlawful collection of data from the companies we trust has ruined much of this trust. The companies that keep America innovating have now been shown to violate our trust, possibly thanks to government bullying.
please note that I am not an expert on government, these are just my thoughts to share