…And I Don’t Care!

Max Schachere

Imagine two different worlds. In one world, libertarian ideals are upheld. You have complete privacy from the government and your proprietary information stays hidden. Every email, phone call, and messenger pigeon is only touched by the sender and receiver. However, this lack of “intelligence gathering” cripples your country’s counterterrorism efforts. Bombings plague the metropolitan areas. Overseas, terrorists influence homegrown cells to an unprecedented extent. Nonetheless, you maintain your constitutional right to privacy.

In the other world, you live in a country where only your thoughts are hidden from the government. Every means of communication is monitored, and your “meta-data” is collected. National security is of the highest importance to the state, and individuals sacrifice privacy to bolster collective safety. The government intrudes into your personal life, ythe risk to the country is less because the government can use survet illance to stop crime.

These two situations are extreme outcomes of worlds that do and don’t prioritize privacy. Keeping these two possibilities in mind, people have been battling all across America trying to distinguish which world is the lesser of two evils.
Back in May of 2013, Edward Snowden released documents detailing a top secret operation run by the National Security Agency (NSA). This operation consisted of a series of programs that intercepted and stored millions of calls, emails, and other forms of electronic communication from American citizens as well as foreigners. It gave the government instant access to whatever “private” information they wanted. , and it mandated that several companies feed copies of phone records to the NSA.

However, this operation came with a few provisions. The government would still need a warrant, in adherence to your 4th amendment right, in order to search your data, but this is only applicable for their search of your specific information. Yet, the government was already granted the legal right to build a meta-analysis of your persona (as declared legal by a FISA court in early 2013). For instance, the government at any time could see that you e-mailed your ex-wife 20 times, but in order to see the contents of the e-mails they would need a warrant. It is important to keep this in mind.

In the wake of this discovery, the first to react were the political parties. The Republicans mostly came out against the operation, while the Democrats hesitantly supported it. Interestingly, neither party’s views were completely homogenous. Even though the right is fundamentally anti-federalist, according to a Washington Post-Pew Research Center poll in 2006, 75% of GOP members supported the “idea” of government surveillance.

The study also found that in 2006 only 37% of liberals supported the idea. However, in the 2013 aftermath of the NSA revelation, 52% of Republicans support the state spying on its people, and 64% of Democrats support it.
Now there are of course many things that could have spurred this shift, such as the 2008, 2010, and 2012 congressional elections, which altered many party platforms. However, arguably nothing changed it more than the 2008 presidential election, when the country had an administration flip. Obama completely changed his cabinet, and instituted primarily Democratic officials.

This is what I believe to be at the crux for change of the support for government surveillance: the right is comfortable when they have an administration that monitors Americans only when they are presumably sharing their same ideals. This is why during the Bush administration we see so much conservative support, and during the Obama administration we see such lack of it. Yet this applies to the left as well, for now they are comfortable with the new administration, as opposed to the old one. Meaning that for this issue, there really is no intrinsic response if one leans left or right.

Based on these factors, I do actually agree with the operation. I believe that if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to fear. The government is only taking a meta-analysis of your information in the interest of national security. The government does not care about the trivial matters of each individual’s life. They are not going to expose some fact about you, unless it’s necessary in order to protect this country. As long as you don’t talk about blowing up a populated area, poisoning the water supply, or something treasonous along those lines, the NSA “scandal” really won’t negatively affect you.

It is important to remember that this is all technically legal. Back in April a FISA (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act) court gave this power to the Department of Defense (and the NSA is a subsidiary of the DOD). But remember, they cannot prosecute you based on the meta-data alone. Another reason I am for the NSA surveillance is similar to the reason why Democrats support it: because under President Barrack Obama, the agency will be forced to disclose some information. Since the NSA’s operation was unveiled, Obama has proposed changes to the jurisdiction of the FISA court, established a NSA council to maintain the assurance of privacy and constitutionality, and overall tried to make the program more transparent.

His belief is that the more confident the American populace is in the NSA, the less pressure there will be to shut it down or to change its activities. Furthermore, if the NSA is more transparent, the nation can have a more informed debate regarding the ethics of the situation.

If you are still undecided, think of which government you would like to have: one that knows all about you or one that knows nothing. It is not an easy decision. But what I think people forget is that the price of freedom increases every day. We can preserve some of it for the potential cost of civilian lives, or we can limit some freedoms in exchange for the protection of the innocent. One can think of it like this: if the country had imposed strict security measures on every commercial airline flight, could 9/11 have been stopped? Absolutely. Thus, with the dawn of the age where everything is digital, let’s take precautions now before it is too late.

About Max Schachere

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Class of 2015. Commentary Author and Online Editor. I primarily cover issues regarding America's domestic or foreign policies. On occasion, I examine how the culture at Hawken is/isn't a microcosm for American society. While I do categorize myself as a liberal, I identify as, above all else, an American.

  • 16hedphi

    I think this comes down to ideology – whether you believe that the latter world that you mention in the beginning is possible at all. So far, the NSA PRISM program and its affiliates have collected virtually all the digital communications that we have (with the exception of any/all terrorist activity via Tor), yet we have not seen real concrete benefits. I do not believe that simply signing over private rights to the government is a good idea.

    I would agree, however, that if the NSA would be more transparent, perhaps we would be in a better situation. However, regarding your statement that “We can preserve some of it for the potential cost of civilian lives,” I must disagree – we are not saving civilian lives through these programs, since even the NSA admitted that it did not monitor encrypted transmissions and Al Qaeda and Hezbollah documents dating back to 2006 show that terrorist organizations were very much aware of the NSA’s programs – much more than 99% of the American public. (Documents regarding these programs were leaked to them by unknown individuals.)