The National Security Agency’s (NSA) website states that they have continued to defend the United States and secure the future for Americans since its establishment in 1952. Although this is their claim, the NSA has been receiving a lot of negativity since Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee and NSA contractor, leaked classified information about NSA mass surveillance to the press earlier this year.
Several months later, the problems continued to ensue. At the end of September, Brazilian President Dilma Rouseff criticized the NSA for breaking international law and disrespecting her country’s sovereignty. During a United Nations General Assembly, Rouseff stated, “Without the right of privacy, there is no real freedom of speech or freedom of opinion, and so there is no actual democracy.” She also said that this must not be repeated in order for the United States to have proper relations with other countries.
Now, at the beginning of November, documents released by Snowden and several interviews with informed officials have further revelations. According to the documents, the NSA has also covertly tapped into the communication links that connect to the around-the-world data centers of Yahoo and Google. As reported by the Washington Post, “By tapping those links, the agency has positioned itself to collect at will from hundreds of millions of user accounts, many of them belonging to Americans. The NSA does not keep everything it collects, but it keeps a lot.”
So, you might be wondering why you should care about all of this information or how it affects you. Do you have a Yahoo or Google account? Do you talk on the phone? Do you email? If you answered yes to any of those questions, the controversy with the NSA undoubtedly affects you. It might not seem like such a big deal, but I think it is definitely important to recognize these issues that threaten our democracy and keep informed about the topic.
Andrew Montgomery, a junior history major with a strong opinion about the NSA, shares my sentiments. He stated, “In my opinion, Americans have allowed fear to completely overwhelm their better judgment. This subsequently has led to sweeping restrictions of our personal liberty.” He also said, “Furthermore, people that argue that spying is OK don’t just say that for themselves; they tacitly consent to this on behalf of people that don’t do anything wrong but still care that their privacy is being violated.” These comments are in response to people’s complacency about spying and even approval of spying simply because those individuals claim to be doing no wrong.
On the other side of the issue, there were some students interviewed who didn’t know much at all about the NSA and the resulting difficulties that have been appearing recently.
Moreover, I feel that many Americans are blind to their constitutional freedoms and the reasons they were created. According to the Legal Information Institute website developed by Cornell University, “Although not explicitly stated in the text of the Constitution, in 1890, soon to be Justice Louis Brandeis, extolled ‘a right to be left alone.’ This right has developed into a liberty of personal autonomy protected by the 14th Amendment.”
Personally, I think that the Fourth Amendment, which provdies safety against unreasonable searches and seizures, directly correlates to the NSA’s activities and the records they have allegedly seized, like the phone records of Verizon customers earlier in the year. Ultimately, I believe that the issues with the NSA will continue to develop and my overarching question is this: should the privacy of all citizens be violated in order to expose the evils in society? I think there needs to be a balance between supposed security and the privacy that U.S. citizens deserve.