In the past two days, we’ve learned that the government is reading our emails, checking our credit card statements, viewing our internet browsing history and making a record of every phone call we make. The spymasters at the National Security Agency (NSA) are trolling our Facebook pages, reading our tweets, watching our videos and Skype calls and looking at our pictures.
The scope of data collection by a democratic government appears to be unprecedented, although one of the lessons learned here is that we really don’t know.
I suspect many of us are still trying to process these revelations. We’ve known that our leaders keep an eye on us (see: J Edgar Hoover) for a long time. After 9-11 and the passage of the Patriot Act, we
understood that the scope of watchfulness in the name of national security had been broadened. If not happy about it, we by and large accepted there was going to have to be a trade-off of privacy to ensure security.
And maybe we shouldn’t be surprised at these programs. We’ve known that the technology existed for a satellite to see what we were reading on a lounge chair in our backyard. We’ve known the government already collected information on international phone and web traffic. Still, we all seemed to think it was only happening to the Bad Guys.
Suddenly, we’ve the same standing as the bad guys. As if we are, each of us, terrorists, the government is pawing through our records without so much as a by-your-leave oversight by a judge, as we would in a regular criminal proceeding.
Americans believe in laws, but we also believe intrinsically in personal freedom. It’s part of our collective consciousness that says we have the right to liberty not only in our actions but in our thoughts.
In today’s world of oversharing via all the various social media platforms, maybe there are some that say we voluntarily already put a lot of information onto the internet. And probably the government doesn’t give a rat’s patootie about the emails we’ve written when upset or angry and saved as a draft and never sent.
There is an inherent wrongness with the idea that our government is wholesale spying on its own citizens. It goes against every idea of what it means to live in a nation of laws; to be an American. It surpasses political party affiliation and socio-economic status.
We have the right to privacy and due process. If the NSA wants to view our records they should have to prove to a judge on a case-by-case basis why doing so is important to national security.
Anything less is, in the truest sense of the word, un-American.
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