How Worried Should We Be About The Increase In U.S. Surveillance?
Government conspiracy theories have been a part of pop culture in the U.S. for…well, since forever really. We've seen movies and TV shows as well as read stories about the government creeping under the eyes of the public, worming their way into the privacy of the people. Such theories make up some of the most entertaining fiction in the world — but now that it is a reality, we don't find it quite as enjoyable.
With the government's most recent unveiled project, PRISM, Americans have found themselves part of a plot they never asked to be part of. Nevertheless, our government is telling us that it is a necessary precaution for our safety. The question is: are they right? Or does our privacy need to stay private?
Spying done by the government on its own people is no novelty. Back in the early 2000s, surveillance programs like Echelon, Total Information Awareness and Carnivore brought awareness to electronic privacy. What was before thought to be science fiction quickly became reality. These sorts of programs fell under the title of proximate surveillance — technological surveillance by the government by means of monitoring the communication itself.
Now things have changed; the government no longer has to spend time monitoring each piece of communication between its citizens. Instead, the government now integrates what they like to call oblique surveillance — surveying information at the source where it is being accumulated; such as search engines, social networks, email providers and telecom companies — a method that is more efficient.
It seems that no matter what, there will always be a digital trail left behind. Whether we are emailing, texting or calling, there will be a record of it somewhere — most likely permanently. Having this knowledge and the knowledge of our government's surveillance programs has unsettled many U.S. citizens. Most feel that their privacy and civil rights have been violated and believe that PRISM ought to be shutdown entirely. Others, however, are less worried, stating that they “have nothing to hide and therefore nothing to worry about.” Is this true? Do we really have nothing at all to hide that will never come back and bite us in the butt?
The issue is that our legal system and its laws are a bit, if not unorganized, mysterious. James Duane, former defense attorney and Regent Law School professor, believes that it is never a good idea to talk to the police. Here's why:
“Estimates of the current size of the body of federal criminal law vary. It has been reported that the Congressional Research Service cannot even count the current number of federal crimes. These laws are scattered in over 50 titles of the United States Code, encompassing roughly 27,000 pages. Worse yet, the statutory code sections often incorporate, by reference, the provisions and sanctions of administrative regulations promulgated by various regulatory agencies under congressional authorization. Estimates of how many such regulations exist are even less well settled, but the ABA thinks there are nearly 10,000.”
In other words, our extraordinarily large book of laws has hidden among it many laws that most people do not even know exist. Many of these laws are outdated and seemingly silly — but, nevertheless, punishable by law. So while you may believe that you are not breaking any laws, chances are that you are and just don't know it.
This seems trivial at the moment, but imagine that for whatever reason in the future you find yourself in a tight situation with the law or find yourself in politics — situations in which your legal or illegal activity is under scrutiny. Now, imagine that the government will have access to all your activity and all that you did and said for the last decade or two.
With as many arbitrary laws as we have, there is bound to be something that they can pin on you or put you in the spotlight for. This would mean that the laws that you have unwillingly broken will be punishable under law only whenever someone decides that you would be less of a problem locked away. This is how you get a governmental body that is capable of “legally” putting anyone away they wish to see disappear. We all have something to hide, even if we don't know it.
Yet, is this such a large price to pay for the security that is provided? The U.S. government claims that the PRISM program has warded off several terrorist attacks. Many probably believe that this is just an escape hatch for our governmental body — but even if only one or two attacks were warded off by the program, is it not worth keeping around?
I do believe that people are entitled to their privacy; however, I do not believe that privacy ought to be the priority, nor do I believe that it is worth paying any price. What it all comes down to is whether our privacy is worth shutting down the PRISM program and by doing so, worth the consequences of such action. What price are we willing to pay for our privacy?
Let us say that the PRISM program has only warded off one terrorist attack since it was brought online. Is our privacy worth the lives of those who would have been killed had PRISM been offline? Is our privacy worth the lives of a dozen people? How about half a dozen? Is one person's life worth less than our privacy? How about two legs or an arm — body parts that were lost by the victims of the Boston Marathon Bombing?
I feel that most Americans are anti-PRISM because they feel that they ought to be fighting for their rights. They feel that their rights are being violated and therefore ought to be doing something about it — fighting against our government turning into a repressive regime. Most people don't stop to consider what PRISM is doing and what the benefits are. If you can say that your privacy — or anyone's for that matter — is more valuable than a human life, then there is nothing more for us to talk about.
Personally, I am willing to live the rest of my life on a reality TV show if it means saving a life worth saving. This, of course, is not to say that PRISM is the only or best solution. There may be a better, less intrusive way of keeping our country safe — one that involves less violation of privacy. However, until a better system can be put into place, I believe we should leave our defenses as they are. Tearing down the wall before reinforcing the fort could mean the loss of life — a price I'm not willing to pay.