“Big Brother in the form of an increasingly powerful government and an increasingly powerful private sector will pile the records high with reasons
why privacy should give way to to National Security, law and order, to efficiency of operation, to scientific advancement, and the like.”
— Supreme Court Justice William O Douglas (1898-1981)
Those are words all Americans should heed or at least examine in the context of the times in which we live and the world that we are intricately woven into. Privacy has always been a sacred American value and has been. The concept of a private common citizen being able to not have their personal words, writings, contents, and the like showcased in the public arena without their consent and to be secretly observed by those in the counsels of power, is an idea that is both under debate and some believe under siege by the hands and forces of government, security, increasingly colossal corporate business policies, and the rapid and seemingly endless road of technological advancement.
Recently there have been debates between congress and the White House, about whether large telecommunications companies should receive retroactive immunity for distributing large volumes of what many believe could be personal data and transfers to government agencies, that the government explains is utilized to combat the perils and dangers of terrorism.
We, as the public have to join lawmakers in a dialog about whether or not we as Americans are willing to entrust government with the gems of our personal freedoms, heirlooms that have been passed down from generation to generation in our great land since those principles were first enshrined in the U.S Constitution since 1789.
Here is some more insight into the strain of surveillance program that we as Americans all should know about, before we enter into such a compact.
Largely missing from the public discussion is the role the highly secretive NSA in analyzing that data, collected through little known arrangements that can blur the lines between domestic and foreign intelligence gathering. Supporters say the NSA is serving as a key bulwark against foreign terrorists and that it would it would be reckless to constrain the agency’s mission. The NSA says it is scrupulously following all applicable laws and that it keeps congress fully informed of its activities.
According to current and former intelligence officials, the spy agency now monitors huge volumes of records of domestic e-mails and Internet services as well as bank transfers, credit card transactions, travel and telephone records. The USA receives this so called “transactional” data from other agencies or private companies, and its sophisticated software programs analyze the various transactions for suspicious patterns. Then they spit out leads to be explored by counter terrorism programs across the U.S and overseas without a judge’s approval when a link to al-Qaeda is suspected.
But what do they mean suspected? Could one’s privacy be predicated on the gossip disseminated by those who might hold a personal grudge or make an unsound judgement about someone, without any substantial evidence to reinforce such claims? What is the definition of someone ‘suspected’ of having links with al-Queda? Who will decide that definition?
During the Cold War a similar program, known as COINTELPRO under the guise of National Security was used to gather domestic intelligence on individuals believed to be a possible danger to the U.S. Such a program which was always built on constitutionally flimsy grounds, was later found to be used to spy and intimidate political activists and rivals.
At present, the “War on Terror” is ill-defined and isn’t understood by most. We don’t know what our aims are in this struggle, we don’t know how long it could last, and if ever it can realistically ever end. Until Americans can decide and come up with concrete and definable definitions of such matters, we should question the wisdom of such a program and the wisdom and morality of ceding such rights that we constantly claim to want to spread around the globe.
In the wake of unprecedented government secrecy as well as recent findings that state the FBI improperly used such warantless subpoenas for the past few years; the government has not made its case to the public about why they should legally be able to amass such powers without the knowledge or consent of the legislative or judicial branches of government, or the public at large.