It’s no secret that the U.S. government watches its citizens. First came reports about daily collection by the National Security Agency (NSA) of Verizon customers’ phone records. Then word broke about the NSA surveillance program named PRISM, which extracted emails, photos, audio and video chats, and data logs from such major U.S. internet companies as Google and Facebook. Should citizens accept these privacy violations and kiss private data goodbye?
Thankfully, some people say No. This week, Mozilla, a free software community, launched a public campaign called stopwatching.us demanding that Congress reveal the full extent of NSA’s spying programs. Stopwatching.us has already gathered over 100,000 signatures. Campaign supporters include a number of large organizations, ranging from Greenpeace USA, a liberal environmental group, to the conservative Tenth Amendment Center to the libertarian Competitive Enterprise Institute.
There are a number of problems with this kind of electronic surveillance. First, the Internet is making it much easier to use these powers. There’s a lot more data to be had. The legal authority to conduct electronic surveillance has grown over the past few years, because the laws are written broadly. And, as users, we don’t have good ways of knowing whether the current system is being abused, because it’s all happening behind closed doors.
Other companies are trying to increase the transparency of government requests for private data. For instance, Google sent a letter addressing this issue to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder and Robert Mueller, Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation. Also, Facebook recently revealed some details about government requests for private data, including how Facebook received between 9,000 and 10,000 such requests between June and December of 2012. Facebook offered the following reason for just now disclosing these requests:
Requests from law enforcement entities investigating national security-related cases are by their nature classified and highly sensitive, and the law traditionally has placed significant constraints on the ability of companies like Facebook to even confirm or acknowledge receipt of these requests – let alone provide details of our responses.
In the name of security, surveillance of citizens by governments and private entities across the globe is increasing. However, citizens should stop governments and private entities from violating their digital privacy. Governments in particular always have many “good reasons” to violate people’s rights to privacy and liberty. But, as Benjamin Franklin said, “They [sic] who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Thus, citizens shouldn’t kiss private data goodbye but should preserve it.