Life - Liberty - And the Pursuit of What?
The Impact of the Government's Pursuit of your Personal & Private Records
What is PRISM?
Last week, through highly classified leaked national security documents to two news organizations, the Guardian in the U.K., and the Washington Post, we all became witnesses to the explosive revelation that the National Security Agency (NSA) had been conducting secret surveillance operation on over 300,000,000 telephone subscribers in the U.S. and overseas. We learned that in this unprecedented scope of data-sweeping program, the intelligence and security agencies of the government scooped up telephone records in mass from major telephone carriers, such as AT&T, Verizon, and Sprint. In a twin development, almost simultaneously, we also found out that through a secret spying program called PRISM, the government has also stolen Internet records, including emails, financial records, and Facebook messages by tapping directly into Google, Yahoo, Facebook, Microsoft, and others? How worried should we all be?
Since this news broke, thanks to now -out -of-work and in danger, self-professed conscientious -secret intelligence analysis contractor objector, Edward Snowden, that the government has been engaged in this massive secret spying operation on U.S. citizens, most people appeared to be too stunned to form definitive opinions one way or the other, on both sides of the political aisle. While we do, and should, expect the government to protect us against enemies, foreign and domestic, we should also be very concerned about this extent of government's overreach and unnecessary intrusion into our private lives.
The Power Grab
In the name of security, the government has grabbed an extraordinary amount of power under the highly classified secret Patriot's Act, following the attack on the nation on September 11, 2001.In post 911 America, this act has been used by many in congress and in law enforcement in general to erode civil liberty in this country. To that effect, FISA, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has been used to spy on innocent and unsuspecting American citizens. And law enforcement organizations throughout the government have used this highly classified law to secure thousands of secret warrants for clandestine operations against U.S. citizens. Ironically, the biggest supporters of this type of abuse have been the so-called small government conservatives. Those small government conservatives in name only seem to only be interested in keeping the government small when it comes to providing support for the poor or funding disaster relief. However, just like they have not yet found a ban on abortion that they did not like, they are yet to find any abuse under the Patriot's Act that they could not support. In fact, those are the same guys who tried to force librarians to release records of their patrons' rental and reading activity logs wholesale to the government after 911. Meanwhile, democrats on the other hand, cowardly cooperate with every national security policy that comes through the rusty congressional pipe, for fear that if they take any principled stance against a national security policy, however egregious, they will be portrayed as soft on terrorism comes time for their reelection. This has become a tradition in the democratic party. Over the past twenty five years, spineless democrats have thrown entire constituents under the boss in similar ways. For example, out of fear of being called soft on crime by their republican opponents who conflated race and crime in the 1980's and into the 1990's, to entice negative sentiments and inflame the electorate, democrats have contributed to the building and development of the prison industrial complex, which now accounts for the United States to house the largest prison population in the world, by allowing the failed war on drug to rage on mostly against Black Americans.
The Right to Privacy
Under no circumstances should government overreach and abuse of power be considered OK. As citizens, we should remain vigilant and let our voices be heard. The government's power is only as great as it such derives from the governed, or at least it should be. Our intangible rights, such as our right to privacy, freedom of movement, our right against unreasonable searches and seizures, are invaluable to our human dignity and are inextricable from our right to life. In fact, our need for privacy is a very basic need. This right is based on our trust that the government is on our side and will protect those fundamental rights that the Founding Fathers refer to as inalienable. And among those are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, all of which will be compromised absent our right to privacy.
President Obama & Reactions in Congress
While answering reporters' questions about the PRISM spying program last week, President Obama said, "we can't have 100% security, 100% privacy, and zero inconvenience." To call not spying on hundreds of millions of Americans and foreigners worldwide a certain inconvenience is outrageous. It is true that some of us have called on the government to provide us with hundred percent of security at all cost. That is clearly in error. The reality is that we do not, and can never expect to reach one hundred percent level of security. As for our privacy, any amount of violation of privacy is too much, and should not be tolerated. The president's comment minimizes the impact of this extreme heist of personal data by the government. This is like saying that a justice system that sends thousands of innocent people to prison, and has been known to even put innocent people to death, is not perfect. The problem here is that some of this has been brought about by our own apathy and complacency, combined with an attitude that if it is just happening to the other guy , that makes it OK. Furthermore, the government demands we take our shoes off at airports, so we do. they want to look through our body with X-Ray machines, we oblige. They want a pat down, we indulge.
Yes We Can: What Role Does the Citizen Play?
Fortunately, it is also President Obama who told the country that "the change is you - You are the change; you have to make Washington change." This means that we are all responsible for letting our public officials know what we expect, and none of it includes the grabbing of our emails, text messages, voicemails, and financial records. We must all get involved in our own governance. This is our life, and we must take ownership of it, starting with protecting our records in every way possible. In this age of Internet and cell phone this is not an easy task, given that we literally leave a track behind us with every phone call we make, every website we visit, and every message we send out or receive, not to mention every financial transaction that we engage in. We need to be aware of this in order to more closely monitor and protect our movement, records, and activities. But it is our personal oversight over the government and civic engagement that will bring about the most meaningful protection of our civil liberties. In this respect, to become engaged means perhaps, finding an organization to get involved with, writing or calling the President and Congress, starting a petition, or writing a letter to the editor. Better yet, hold a community meeting to discuss issues and policies, or send a letter to your neighbors to alert them of important policy issues. When undertaken by any citizen, each one of these activities can go a long way to creating a healthier nation; for a citizenry educated in its civic duties is by far better prepared to contribute to making this democracy a more perfect union.