American government surveillance programs stirred a national debate on the importance of national security versus the right to privacy. It is imperative to find the balance between protecting American citizens, and the right to privacy. If not, our privacy will continue to diminish due to government surveillance practices.
As humans, we value our freedoms, the right to lead our lives with no interference, and to keep the details of our private lives private. However, without our knowledge, the government and private companies collect personal information on virtually every American.
Edward Snowden, a former National Security Agency (NSA) contractor, revealed an espionage program the U.S. government carried out through the NSA. The program’s purpose was to collect surveillance information of other governments and institutions through internet and phone lines, including governmental communications.
Snowden revealed that the U.S. government partnered with private companies such as Apple, Microsoft, Yahoo, Google and Facebook to access their servers and do its espionage activity.
Snowden’s case revealed the conflict between the duties of the government to protect the nation and the people’s right to privacy. The Privacy Act of 1974 restricts the federal government from collecting citizens’ personal information.
In order to avoid the limitations the Privacy Act placed on the government, it commissioned private companies to do the work of information gathering. Additionally, after the events on Sep. 11, 2001, federal laws, such as the Patriot Act, gave the government more leeway to invade our privacy without our permission.
Although some groups claim that surveillance programs violate the law of privacy and the Constitution, Obama’s administration assures that phone and Internet surveillance are legal and carefully managed to protect privacy and national interests.
In an interview in USA Today, Robert S. Litt, director of national intelligence, stated that “the sole goal of the programs is to prevent possible terrorist attacks.” He indicated that the surveillance program does not eavesdrop on every single telephone or internet conversation, but rather it analyzes only specific cases “when there is specific and reasonable evidence to believe that terrorist suspects are involved.”
It is obvious that national security secrets are still a crucial part of protecting the nation; however, there must be a balance between protecting American citizens and their rights to privacy.
The Constitution’s Third and Fourth Amendments provide protection for citizens against the government’s intrusion into their private homes. These amendments were written to insure the fundamental rights of privacy.
Although written in a time where there was no Internet and phone, the Amendments can cause confusion when applied in modern times. The authors of these Amendments did not have in mind today’s modern tools.
Today, government officials use technological tools such as phones, computers, satellites, and internet to search for terrorist suspects. As a result, how the American government interprets such Amendments has cast doubts on people; when it secretly eavesdrops on personal conversations through modern technological tools, claiming it is for national security purposes.
Also, Snowden’s case illustrates that the secret information is vulnerable and sometimes easy to leak. Many Americans see this as weak responsibility, especially when we are able to yield a little bit of our privacy rights to contribute in protecting the nation.
The analysis in this article suggests that the American government is sometimes partially committed in protecting the right to privacy due to its political interests first and above all. Such partial commitment may jeopardize the future of the right of privacy for future generations because it diminishes it bit-by-bit.
All personal information could be disclosed to anyone at anytime.
As a result, government surveillance practices have stirred confusion and concern among American citizens because, if misused, it can turn into a threat.
With such concerns, it seems imperative a better balance between protecting American citizens and the right to privacy without jeopardizing our national security. A more reasonable balance can be achieved only with open communication, a strong commitment to privacy rights between the government and the American citizens, and more effective strategies to prevent the thriving of terrorism and other national problems.