Millennials are criticized for broadcasting too many intimate details of our everyday lives online. We readily publish what we had for lunch, when we went to the gym, relationship status updates, and more. Things more senior generations might deem “TMI” are standard online chatter for us; however, there is a method to the madness. Global connectivity has enabled us to open new lines of communication with people across town, across the country, and across the world. We see value in being able to speak freely, giving us access to new ideas and cultures through comparing the human experience, hemisphere to hemisphere.
The internet and mobile connectivity are a part of our daily lives. Our identities are built online, yet we maintain a certain expectation of privacy. Our trust in online confidentiality has now been shredded by the NSA’s recently publicized data mining programs. Their level of intrusion into our personal, private electronic information is the equivalent of feds going through our parents’ mail, perusing their credit card statements, and reading grandma’s birthday card.
Yet we have opted to commercialize our private lives. It has long been common practice for corporations to harvest “big data” in order to profile our online activities and pedal their products to the public. Selling shoes is one thing; the NSA’s intentions are much more nefarious.
The lingering $2 billion question in many people’s minds is what are they doing with our information? According to Edward Snowden’s recent interview with Brian Williams, the NSA is piecing together “pattern of life” profiles. But what are these profiles being used for? One might assume it is to determine our proclivity to engage in terrorist activities, but what is their definition of a dangerous marker, suspicious key word, or pattern? Subscribing to a political website’s RSS feed? Googling Frédéric Bastiat?
I’ve heard people say, “I have nothing to hide and if stopping terrorists means the government has to read my emails, then so be it.” What they should be saying is, “We are Americans living on American soil. We are ensured the rights granted to us by God and secured in the Constitution of the United States including due process and presumption of innocence. Warrantless surveillance with no judicial oversight flies in the face of what our nation was built upon. This isn’t Guantanamo; it’s Main Street USA.” Despite what rationale might be assigned to it, bulk data collection from innocent citizens is the government protecting themselves from the American people.
The complicit, but not entirely willing partners in aiding and abetting the federal government’s surveillance programs, have been the world’s largest internet services and applications tech companies. It is important to note that many have been dreamed up and designed by 20-somethings. Cisco CEO John Chambers penned a letter asking President Obama to rein in the loose interpretations of this federal branch’s authority. Chambers isn’t the only tech giant calling for reform. Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg wrote in a blog post, “When our engineers work tirelessly to improve security, we imagine we’re protecting you against criminals, not our own government.” We associate intrusion of online privacy with hackers like the recent Heartbleed bug. We assume those combing through our private data have criminal intentions to steal our information for financial gain. We would never expect this from our own government.
There is a global ripple effect of undermining the protocols of online privacy. By corroding the integrity and viability of the internet, consumers will question the security of online transactions be it financial or informational. They won’t utilize online and mobile resources to their fullest potential fearing any information they divulge will be harvested by our government to profile and incriminate us. There is a true financial cost and price to pay for failure to preserve civil liberties.
I see a glaring hypocrisy in President Obama accusing China of cyber terrorism while allowing a US federal agency to engage in domestic surveillance. China is hacking and stealing American corporate trade secrets for financial gain. Is that so much worse than a government spying on its loyal patriots and citizens simply because there is a dollar value associated with it? Again, this is not China who censors the internet; this is America who should promote liberty.
The NSA’s power granted by secret executive fiat will be remembered in the pages of history as one of the most egregious violations of our constitutional rights. There are similarities between the NSA and the missteps of McCarthy’s entertainment industry blacklist. Both carried out constitutionally violating measures commissioned in response to blanket assumptions of disloyalty and vague inferences of national security. Neither of these government responses made us a safer or freer society. The NSA’s citizen surveillance program in principle is no better than that implemented by the KGB in the USSR who infiltrated and monitored their own population.
There are few issues the left and right agree on — but our government’s callous disregard for civil liberties is a unifying crime. From the ACLU lawsuit to conservative bloggers’ outrage, Americans from all ideological backgrounds are decrying the abhorrent acts of distrust by the government of their own citizenry.
Our Founding Fathers did not envision a nation where we are constantly looking over our shoulder because big brother is watching. My peers and I can deal with helicopter parents but not a helicopter government. Until these programs are brought to an end, we are living only with the façade of freedom where my generation and those to follow will live in fear of the government’s suppression of the First Amendment.
Renae Cowley hails from West Point, Utah and is a graduate of Utah State University. She has been heavily involved in Utah political campaigns and has built a reputation as an artful campaign consultant, top-notch fundraiser, and talented young lobbyist. She worked on several federal, statewide, and legislative races in Utah. Renae is a part of Utah’s most prominent lobbying firms, Foxley & Pignanelli who was just awarded Best in State for Government Relations.
Her crowning achievement was winning Miss Rodeo Utah and finishing in the top five at Miss Rodeo America.