The right to privacy has been considered by many to be a fundamental American principle. Yet this right, in some ways so central to the American way of life, has long been under attack. There is a battle in the United States over the role of privacy rights. Some other issues tend to get more attention, yet the concept of privacy is vitally important.
Technological advancement has undoubtedly benefited the world in immeasurable ways, particularly in more advanced countries such as the United States. Yet this same advancement has made it more difficult to maintain the right to privacy. As the world becomes more interconnected, it becomes easier to inadvertently give out private information in places that can be accessed by others. For example, it came to public attention that the NSA can supposedly get information about people by hacking into the cell phone apps that the people might use. While this is certainly not a call to withdraw from the internet, it illustrates how difficult it can be to protect one’s privacy in this age of social media and inter-connectivity. It should be pointed out that it is not really possible for the average person to gauge the truthfulness of various leaks such as this with any certainty, but it is interesting information nonetheless.
Security is the primary excuse for surveillance programs conducted by government agencies such as the NSA. The threat of terrorism is often mentioned when arguing for these programs. For example, Senator Lindsey Graham mentioned that he does not think collecting phone data is against the Fourth Amendment, so long as it is to help prevent a terrorist attack. He suggested that the phone data collection program is acceptable, because it is (apparently) still subject to judicial authority. The problem is, when activities are done in secret or with little information made available, it requires a great deal of trust on the part of the American public.
There are certainly real threats to the United States and the safety of its people, but the tendency to move toward more and more security and surveillance can be dangerous. The government can never protect people from every possible threat, no matter how many security programs are put in place. That is not to say that there should not be basic security, but the American people should not have to accept violations of privacy based on what might happen. Safety should not automatically be an excuse for constitutionally suspect programs.
President Obama recently weighed in on the privacy rights battle by proposing a law that would prevent the NSA from storing phone records itself. This sounds good on the surface, but when one looks more closely, the proposal does very little. The NSA could still access phone records, it simply would not be able to store them. The phone companies would instead be the ones storing the data. Real reforms of the NSA, reforms that actually have teeth, would be excellent. It is hard to take what Obama has proposed too seriously.
The battle over privacy rights is far from over. There is no telling where this battle will lead, but Americans owe it to themselves to remain vigilant.
Editorial By Zach Kirkman