Sunday, June 9, 2013

NSA Surveillance – Should You be Afraid, Very Afraid?

A big news story broke this week by The Guardian (a U.K. news source) about the U.S. NSA surveillance program called “PRISM.” (Don’t ask me if PRISM is an acronym for anything because if it is, I surely can’t find it. ) Apparently, the NSA has been collection phone records of Verizon customers. Later, there were more reports that the NSA also has access to everyone’s emails and Internet activity such as a person’s search history, videos, photos, etc.  As my mind races to think of all the web sites I’ve accessed just in the last week – even accidentally – my initial response to this news is alarm.

What’s happened to privacy, or, as some say, our right to privacy? Technically. The US Constitution’s Bill of Rights does not specifically grant a right to privacy. While the 4th Amendment provides for protection from unreasonable search and seizure, it never mentions privacy. The Bill of Rights does mention “liberty,” which many believe implies a right to privacy. The privacy issue has always been a gray area but some laws are written in keeping with the spirit of a personal privacy.

Should you be worried that the government may be looking over your shoulder? Yes – and no. The argument that if you’re not doing anything wrong you should not be worried is nonsensical; one may not be doing anything wrong but someone who doesn’t know you may think you are, and you may find yourself in trouble over nothing. I’m reminded of a review of a TV show I posted a few years ago (the show was “24”) and afterwards, my site traffic was filled with hits coming from government web sites located in Washington D.C. I suspect that some of the words I used to describe the activity on the show may have set off alarm bells. (As I don’t want the government looking at my blogs, I’ll refrain from repeating those words here. ) Bottom line is that, in my opinion, the government has been looking at Internet activity for a long time. And for good reason. There are people out there who are using the Internet, phones, computers, tablets, and any technology available, to do bad things. While I don’t like the government scanning my every word, I also want them to catch people who DO mean harm BEFORE they actually can do harm. Most people should have nothing to fear by this government surveillance, so stop worrying about what we sites you visited, or about who you called, or what photos you took.

All that said, there should be a right to privacy – with limits. I believe that if the government wants to actually listen to my phone calls or read my emails, they need to get the proper warrants. I can be more flexible on the issue of them seeing what phone numbers I am calling, or what web sites I visit, or even what books I read, in order to thwart terrorism. This is a tough world we live in, and we need to allow the government the ability to do high-level research in order to help zero in on those who do mean harm. We cannot expect the government to protect us when we tie their hands. Search engines like Google and Yahoo, cell phone companies, and web sites like Twitter and Facebook where many post the most boring minutia of their lives are already collecting data on their users, and some people post way too much information to the public on the Internet. The government would be remiss if they didn’t find a way to tap into that hoard of information. The only way to stop the flow of data to the government and to businesses is to stop using all the technology and stop sharing too much information on the Internet – and I don’t see that happening any time soon.

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Anonymous said...

You said, "Most people should have nothing to fear by this government surveillance, so stop worrying about what we sites you visited, or about who you called, or what photos you took." I disagree. The government is collecting and storing this data. If someday you write a blog entry that is viewed by our government as a threat to them or public safety, they can then search their records to see everyone who has been reading your blog and get warrants (or not) to begin surveillance on each of your readers. This in itself would likely chase your readers away. What if someone you call occasionally (say once a year) becomes a known Eco-Terrorist? An I note here that the NSA has said they only use this information to fight Terrorist, they did not say what kind of Terrorist. Now how hard is it for the NSA to look into their database of phone call metadata and see that you have had a prior contact with this known Eco-Terrorist. That is all they need to get a warrant to listen in on your calls, etc. The problem here is they can essentially take a snap shot of the past and use it out of context to make a case in the future. Sounds like an NSA career builder to me. Just think of what Herbert Hoover, Joseph McCarthy, and Richard Nixon could have accomplished had they had this information available to them.

The Frequent Critic said...

Yes, there may be some cases down the road where someone may find they are connected to someone with a possible unsavory past or with questionable intent. But I stand by my opinion that most people would never have to worry about this kind of scenario and most people would not have the government that interested in their day to day minutia!