July 5, 2013
The government’s policies in the NSA’s PRISM program reflect perhaps the perfect storm of public-policy conundrums. This surveillance seems to offer short-term advantages, with the real costs hidden, diffuse, unknown, and, seemingly, far in the future. What, many ask, is the real price of giving up privacy? The government has presented PRISM, and other similar surveillance programs, as a solution to a danger and fear — terrorism — which is almost impossible to comprehend: Terrorism is everywhere and nowhere; the battlefield is across the globe; the threat is omnipresent. It is difficult for the average person to perceive and understand until it is splashed across television screens. Terrorism is by definition designed to “shock and awe.” It is theatre of the macabre.
The government has used this fear to justify unprecedented intrusions into our privacy, including monitoring who we call, our location data, and allegedly even the contents of our communication (if there is a 51 percent chance that one party to the communication is foreign). Our personal calling data, emails,letters, credit-card transaction data — everything seems fair game. The fact that the NSA wants this much information shouldn’t be surprising. The old maxim that to a hammer every problem looks like a nail is appropriate here. A spy agency specializing in “signals” intelligence is always looking for more phone calls, emails, and other signals-based data to analyze. The more data NSA receives, the more powerful it becomes.
The most worrying facet of this story is the willingness of some Americans and members of Congress to so quickly disregard the Fourth Amendment and our liberty in the name of terrorism. Not so long ago, the U.S. faced arguably higher stakes, and more significant dangers, but made the opposite choices — choices more consistent with our founding principles.
This article was posted: Friday, July 5, 2013 at 10:25 am