Technology is many things to people in developed nations. It is a friend, a confidant, a teacher, or to some, an enemy. However, one cannot deny that we are constantly surrounded by technology, whether we bought it, the government bought it, or even another person. Most phones in this day and age have a recording device, such as a camera, and an auditory function, like a telephone, or even Skype or Google Hangouts. In these forums, you feel private, safe, protected. You can speak your mind, and be assured that your conversations are private.
Do not be mistaken, nothing you do is private. Nothing you do is secret. Nothing you do is solely in your hands. The National Security Agency (NSA), spies on over a billion people every day, and is able to monitor anything that you do. The NSA maps the movements of hundreds of millions of people using the location trackers from companies like Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Skype, Youtube, and Apple. The NSA has the ability to listen to you through your phone, even when it is turned off. Our government has the power to monitor literally every piece of technology that you have that can use the internet or is in some way communicating with the outside world. But how does it do this? Why?
Following 9/11, President Bush authorized a program called the, “Terrorist Surveillance Program,” which enabled the NSA to monitor communications. One of the first things that the NSA did was convince various corporations, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon to hand over their call data. This included names, addresses, phone numbers, and other pieces of information which could be regarded as personal. Then, the NSA took your call history, meaning who you called, and their information as well. The same companies mentioned above gave the NSA permission to install surveillance equipment in their facilities around the country. This gave the NSA access to billions of emails, texts, and other data. Anytime you use your phone, the signal goes through your cell providers’ facilities to be transmitted. Email, text, snapchats, anything you send to anyone else. The NSA could then analyze these communications for patterns, keywords, and connections to “terrorist” groups. According to the 4th Amendment in the United States, a search and seizure by a law enforcement officer without a warrant and probable cause is a violation of said amendment. This is saying that unless there is credible evidence that you are committing illegal or suspicious activity, any search of your communications or property is a violation of the Constitution.
The NSA has been violating the Constitution and your civil liberties as a free citizen by monitoring your communications. The US Supreme Court, in the case US vs. Katz, has made it impeccably clear that this privacy protection that we have as citizens does cover electronic surveillance, and as such any form of electronic surveillance that the US does without probable cause is illegal. The NSA is only allowed to spy on people when they are specifically given license to do so because the US Government has legitimate cause to believe that that person will commit an illegal act.
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 directs the procedures that the US Government needs to take in order to collect information. FISA basically tells the US Government how we can spy on people in the US. However, after 9/11 FISA was amended significantly by the Patriot Act, and now is just generally ignored. Even after its post 9/11 loosening, it prohibits warrantless surveillance on citizens, yet both President Bush and President Obama continue to do just that.
Domestic Surveillance is not a partisan issue. Both President Bush and President Obama continue to allow this eavesdropping, and both Presidents extended the Patriot Act. And while Hillary Clinton’s position on the issue is slightly ambiguous, it is fair to say that both Presidential nominees are going to continue the illegal activity of the NSA. The only party that has unilaterally condemned the NSA’s measures are insignificant 3rd parties that will be empowered to change our laws.
It is true that in order to effectively fight terrorism, the US must have developed intelligence networks with the power to act on intelligence with probable cause. However, it is imperative that our intelligence gathering networks don’t interfere with our constitutional liberties. Once the citizens of the United States lose these privacy rights, and acquiesce to the will of the US Government, we lose those rights forever. Our responsibility as citizens towards this issue is clearly outlined in the first amendment, specifically stating, “and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.” Whenever citizens expose the wrongdoing of the government, they are accused of treason, and labeled a traitor. For example, an attorney named David Weber who worked for the US Securities and Exchange Commission exposed hacking by the People’s Republic of China into our financial sector, and of the misconduct of the officials investigating the misconduct of Bernie Madoff. As a result, he was fired from his job. Or take the most infamous whistleblower, Edward Snowden, who is the source for the NSA’s illegal activity. Snowden is currently residing in Russia, and if he goes back to the United States he can be tried for treason. Whistleblowers, just like muckrakers, are important parts of our society that ensure that the most powerful elements are honest and fair with the common person.
In conclusion, the NSA violates the constitutional liberties of hundreds of millions of Americans daily, and over a billion people worldwide. The NSA has the power to reach into any piece of technology you have that can send or receive electronic signals from other devices, and the US Government continually consents to this. Freedom-loving citizens such as Edward Snowden expose the illegal activities of the NSA, but are labeled traitors. If the people of the United States do not understand the importance of this issue, we are at risk of losing our constitutional liberties forever. The NSA and our government needs to understand that there are ways to combat terrorism without violating the rights of millions, and the NSA needs to understand that those who uncover their activities perform an important duty to the people and to our Republic.