By Pamela Rodriguez-Ortiz
Ever feel like you’re being watched? Recent leaks of secret government files reveal that maybe you are being watched after all. Every telephone call you make, email you send, or website you visit is all being tracked and collected in what is referred to as dragnet surveillance performed by the American government. Quickly following the terrorist attacks that struck on September 11, the National Security Agency (NSA), with the passing of the US Patriot act, began collecting data, or spying as some would say, on all American citizens in the hopes of preventing future terrorist attacks.
The NSA stands behind the idea that “If you’re not doing anything wrong, you have nothing to hide.” However, those opposed to mass surveillance argue that mass surveillance is wrong because not only is it an invasion of privacy and unconstitutional, but it is also not very effective for the purpose it was designed for. Those who oppose mass surveillance make arguments rooted in morals and appeal to tradition, which can also be seen as dogmatic. This moral viewpoint means that they believe in protecting what is right, and what is in the Constitution. They are dogmatic in the sense that they believe that following the Constitution is the only right way to go about things, such as surveilling American citizens. Opposers further back up their argument with evidence of how the NSA isn’t actually protecting us from terrorism, as they claim.
In June 2013, an online news website, The Guardian published leaked information about the extent of the surveillance. Through information, provided by whistleblower Edward Snowden, the American public became aware of the scope of the NSA’s mass collection of their data. An article published June 2013 by Glenn Greenwald, a journalist and privacy advocate with close ties to Snowden, revealed that the NSA demanded Verizon for telephone records from millions of it’s customers, “The document shows for the first time that under the Obama administration the communication records of millions of US citizens are being collected indiscriminately and in bulk – regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing.”
That wasn’t the first time secret NSA documents were leaked. Back in 2006, former AT&T communications technician, Mark Klein shed light on a fiber optic splitter that makes copies of the internet traffic from AT&T customers and then sends it to the NSA for their own use. When USA today wrote an article about this, the American public was enraged. Soon after the leaks, the Electronic Frontier Foundation filed a case against the NSA in efforts to try to end unchecked government surveillance. Numerous citizens claimed that their constitutional rights were being violated due to the surveillance. The Fourth Amendment in the Constitution prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. However under their surveillance program, the government is able to obtain countless personal files without a warrant or probable cause. Clearly, the American people strongly believe in abiding by the constitution, as it is the foundation of our country and government, and not letting the government be above the law.
Not only do opposers of mass surveillance believe it is wrong because it violates their privacy, they also argue that it has little effect on preventing terrorism. Following claims made by President Obama and the NSA that their controversial spying methods helped prevent dozens of attacks, the New America Foundation dug deeper into NSA data collection to find that “the NSA’s bulk collection of Americans’ phone metadata, justified under the Patriot Act, was responsible for initiating investigations in only four of the 225 cases detailed by the New America Foundation and that none of those four prevented attacks.” Based on this article, it appears that the government may be overestimating how useful their surveillance programs are to saving lives. The study also found that traditional methods such as relying on witnesses, family members or informants for information, played a far more crucial role in stopping terrorist attacks than relying on metadata. This further builds the narrative, because if spying on ordinary citizens’ phone calls and internet traffic doesn’t actually prevent terrorist attacks, it becomes easy to dismiss the mass surveillance as not only wrong, but unnecessary.
Ron Wyden, a Democratic senator from Oregon, believes the public should be informed of what is going on within the government. When it comes to the issue of NSA mass surveillance, his fight for transparency remains. According to The Huffington Post, “Wyden has repeatedly used the Senate committee’s rare public hearings to force spy agency chiefs to go on the record about sensitive surveillance issues.” Wyden works to alert the public of what he suspects is really going on behind the NSA’s closed doors. At a hearing called to discuss the need for a possible reform of NSA surveillance after the Snowden leaks, Wyden pressed NSA Director Keith Alexander and National Intelligence Director James Clapper for the truth behind dragnet surveillance on the American people. The Senator argues that the NSA must change the way in which they operate their surveillance programs, that he believes to be unconstitutional and deceiving by nature. Wyden seems to have the publics best interest in mind, as he is fighting for their right to privacy. Considering Wyden is a senator, his opinions on the NSA make headlines. He has spoken at conferences discussing the methods of the NSA’s mass surveillance, and although his hard hitting questions tend to be dodged, his relentless appeal for government transparency is heard and noted by both the public and the government.
Founded in July 1990, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, or EFF for short is a non profit organization that protects and defends civil liberties in cyberspace. As technology advances they work to make sure our rights and freedoms are protected. The EFF first involved themselves in the fight against mass surveillance in early 2006, when they got ahold of the evidence provided by AT&T whistleblower Mark Klein. They filed a lawsuit against the NSA, and have since continued to take the NSA to court to fight for the people’s privacy. The EFF is a fairly significant figure when it comes to the fight against NSA’s invasive security methods.
Glenn Greenwald, apart from being one of the biggest advocates for privacy, is a journalist, lawyer, author, blogger, editor of The Intercept and former columnist for The Guardian. Greenwald can be describes as someone who is unafraid to voice their opinion, and seeks to get the truth out to the public. Via The Guardian, Greenwald was one of the first people to reveal the leaked Snowden documents to the public. Greenwald strongly believes in maintaining the privacy of the people. In a TEDTalk that garnered over 200,000 views, He goes on to say that “Mass surveillance creates a prison in the mind that is a much more subtle, though much more effective, means of fostering compliance with social norms or with social orthodoxy, and is much more effective than brute force could ever be.” From his TEDTalk to writing columns on The Guardian, and being Editor of The Intercept, Greenwald’s voice is heard by the masses. As mentioned before, Greenwald was one of the first to write about the Snowden revelations that shook the American public, so clearly he has many devoted readers. Through his devotion to raising public awareness in relation to the extent of NSA surveillance and his fierce advocacy for privacy, it seems Greenwald has the interest of the people at heart. He is against allowing the government from taking away the rights and freedom of the people.
It’s clear that the majority of US citizens enjoy their privacy, and feel their rights have been violated by the NSA plan to “collect it all.” Just recently, in October of 2014, thousands assembled around the Capitol to protest for their right to privacy. Organizers Stopwatching.us handed Congress more than half a million petitions to let them know that they want their privacy back. It’s clear that the public will continue to fight the surveillance programs until they get back within the limits of the Constitution.
According to The National Journal the Obama administration plans to shed light on their recent efforts to reform the NSA’s surveillance programs. Deputy press secretary commented “What you’ll see is that the intelligence community has made significant progress toward our goal, toward the administration’s goal, of protecting civil liberties and privacy while making sure that the intelligence community has the tools it needs to safeguard our national security.” White house officials want people to believe that in the near future we should be expecting to see a change in the way the NSA operates. However, based on my research, it seems like a rather empty promise given by the government to keep public uproar at bay.