The ongoing NSA revelations and the debate on how to deal with those who inform the public about our rights being violated shows that the United States is at a pivotal point in our history. We need to decide whether we want to be governed by secret courts and institutions which don’t hesitate to testify falsely in front of congressional committees or if we want to live in a society where we are protected against those who feel they have the authority to do.
Today’s youth have grown up in the most connected world that has ever existed. Our generation recognizes modern communications, social media, and especially the Internet as one of the greatest innovations in human history. We love sharing, liking, and collaborating via the web, keeping in touch with friends from overseas, and being able to work in virtual offices. We share information on the web willingly and voluntarily, knowing that it is available to others. We use free-of-charge services such as Gmail with the awareness that their business model is based on advertisement and marketing. We accept that trade-off: We share a limited amount of our information to gain the significant benefits that come from high-quality email services and online collaboration. But we do not consent to share everything with everyone.
When politicians such as President Obama and representatives of various intelligence services tell us that there is a trade-off between privacy and security, they are not actually offering a trade. Not only are we offered any meaningful mechanisms to defend privacy from these latest encroachments. There is little-to-no proof that programs such as PRISM add any value to counter-terrorism efforts. They are asking for a blank check to override our privacy and offering us nothing in return.
The Obama Administration and hawkish politicians on both sides of the aisle have labeled Edward Snowden as an “enemy of the state.” As long as they define “the state” by the individuals who hold the power within the state and the systems that exist to exert their powers, without regard to the lawfulness of their activities, then they are right. However, if we recognize the state as more than that, as an embodiment of principles of justice, to achieve certain ends such as protecting human rights, whose authority is derived from the people, who must be able to check what those in power are doing, then they are wrong. To the extent that a person is an “enemy of the state” for holding that state accountable to the principles of justice it is meant to embody and protect, we should call that state an “enemy of the people.”
My generation is frightened by the fact that we have been ruled by two presidential administrations and multiple intelligence services that bear greater resemblance to a dystopian Hollywood movie than the model of liberal and constitutional values we are taught in history and government classes. Lavabit founder Ladar Levison cannot even talk about the reasons why he shut down his service, for to do so would bring about criminal charges. It is unbelievable that this is possible in the country that brought about modern Democracy.
Our government, and the court system in particular, needs to start protecting people’s privacy instead of snooping around and massively collecting data of innocent citizens. Real security can only come about when we are secure in our rights.
For this reason, my generation demands more oversight for US surveillance practices.
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