“When the people fear the government there is tyranny, when the government fears the people there is liberty,”
— Thomas Jefferson
It’s amazing to me how little reaction there is to the revelations about the National Security Agency (NSA) monitoring and snooping private Internet traffic. The average Joe on the street seems almost resigned to it, like it’s inevitable. It may be a sign that our society has become sadly complacent about dwindling personal liberties in the electronic age.
This story only gets bigger. Today, the Wall Street Journal published an article that says the NSA’s surveillance reach is expanisive — they have built a deep surveillance network that covers about 75% of all Internet traffic, says the WSJ. This has been built with the wide cooperation of national service providers and orginated at AT&T.
Just in case you thought AT&T was a little more like the government than you wanted it to be, there is now proof.
So why do so few people seem to care? You often hear this argument about Internet surveillance: “Well, if you’re not doing anything wrong, what’s there to worry about?” This is absurd. If this were the case, all us law-abiding citizens would be happy to post surveillance cameras around our house and broadcast them on the Internet 24 by 7.
It’s about about privacy, liberty, and tyranny. The fact that the government can freely monitor 75% of the Internet and look at whatever they want is information tyranny. We have now given the federal government licence to do whatever they want with your information. Is that really what you want?
The other argument you hear is that “they’re keeping us safe.” This is also insane. Did the citizens of the Soviet Union feel more safe under the rule of Nikita Krhushchev? Possibly. There is a wide range of powerful and tyrannic leaders that brought their citizens safety against hostile forces — as long as you agreed with them. We could all lock ourselves in our houses 24 by 7 and have the government deliver us food. We would feel nice and safe, but how good a life would that be? I’m not sure the soldiers of the French Revolution, for example, were fighting for safety.
It’s possible that public sentiment has become more numb to the concept of information tyranny because of the free and easy way that information is exchanged in the modern world. Some of us Tweet. Others post intimate pictures of our family on Facebook. Entire conversations that you would have never imagined seeing the light of day are freely published on the Internet, every day. With Instragram, teenage children regularly chronicle every moment of their day.
Privacy? People don’t seem to care much about privacy any more. As former Sun Micrososystems CEO Scott McNealy said in 1999, “You have zero privacy anyway, get over it.”
Should we really be this resigned? Should we not care? Should we shrug our shoulders and say, “The government’s gonna find a way to do it anyway.”
Rather than breaking this down along metaphysical questions such as “Are we safer” or rationalize it by saying there’s “No privacy anyway,” maybe we should think about the future implications of what type of society we want to have, and how much power we want the government to have.
This is about giving more power to the government, that’s the bottom line. It’s not even about democracy, because the people who run the NSA are not freely sharing any of this information with the public (as we’ve found out). Information is the ultimate power, so therefore we have given the U.S. government the keys to the ultimate control of information in our society.
Let’s not accept this as a done deal. Let’s continue to debate it — it’s a big issue — and decide whether it’s right or wrong.
Or maybe people should just sit back on the couch and joke about it — or Tweet it. The NSA is watching us. Let’s go watch Netflix.