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Privacy, Surveillance, and Security in a Post-Snowden America

“It’s difficult for most people to even conceptualize… The problem is that the Internet is vastly complex, and so much of it is invisible.”

– Edward Snowden

After the events of 9/11, the American people were ready and willing to give up numerous personal freedoms in the name of national security. The PATRIOT Act ushered in a new era of mass surveillance conducted domestically by the United States government, and no one was the wiser regarding the scope and scale of these clandestine operations. It wasn’t until Edward Snowden began releasing classified NSA documents detailing these mass surveillance programs that would have George Orwell rolling in his grave that anyone took notice. I was intrigued by the position John Oliver took early on in his show just before the interview was shown, where he claimed that only one measly terrorist attack plot has been thwarted by the use of these programs – what John Oliver fails to mention or take into account is the fact that information catalogued by the government regarding possible terror attacks are not the kinds of information routinely shared with the general public. Just because we as a country have not been made aware of all attempted attacks against the United States does not mean that none have occurred, it will be at least several decades before such information is declassified. For example, the Kennedy files were just declassified recently. This has been the protocol for sensitive information for decades, how can we expect any different now?'

In regards to the information chosen by Snowden to copy, steal, and release, Edward Snowden was just one NSA analyst. How many other NSA analysts deal with highly sensitive material regarding domestic (and foreign) issues that the American people would find horrifying? Obviously, not many choose to follow Snowden’s example and become an enemy of the state. Furthermore, all of the data Snowden stole is biased towards what he finds to be morally objectionable. I wonder how high up Snowden’s security clearance went at the NSA… if he was low on the totem pole, then these leaks are only the tip of the iceberg.

In his interview with John Oliver, Snowden advocated, “you shouldn’t change your behavior because a government agency somewhere is doing the wrong thing. If we sacrifice our values because we are afraid, we don’t care about those values very much.” The one thing that Americans as a whole truly value the most is the ‘freedom’ we are promised by the Constitution. All of these surveillance programs have been kept in the dark since their inception, presided over by courts kept just as secret from the public, and only thrust into the national spotlight (for however brief a time) by Edward Snowden.

Cornell Law interprets the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution of the United States as: “The Fourth Amendment originally enforced the notion that ‘each man’s home is his castle’, secure from unreasonable searches and seizures of property by the government. It protects against arbitrary arrests, and is the basis of the law regarding search warrants, stop-and-frisk, safety inspections, wiretaps, and other forms of surveillance, as well as being central to many other criminal law topics and to privacy law.” Now, I haven’t gone to law school, but it’s pretty blatant that this mass spying epidemic perpetrated against the American people is wholly unconstitutional – the American Civil Liberties Union also seems to think so, and is actively engaged in a lawsuit against the NSA. The argument I hear most often in support of these programs is the old saying, “You have nothing to fear if you have nothing to hide.” This may be a perfectly valid worldview to have if you are a sheltered white American, but is this way of thinking Constitutional? If we have nothing to hide and still have everything to fear, at what point do we value security more than our freedom?

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