New technology gives ‘Big Brother’ terrifying new powers
The Patriot Act states the importance of national security over the privacy of individuals in the fight against terrorism. You would think that security and privacy are two aspects in today’s society that would merge seamlessly without any contentious issues. However, with the recent furore around the United States of America’s National Security Agency (NSA), conflict has risen between these two aspects as individuals are sacrificing one of their most important rights.
The right to privacy is promised to every citizen in the US Constitution’s Bill of Rights. But to what extent is this theory actually practised when an organisation is able to access almost any information you regard as ‘private and confidential’?The amount of private information they collect from people, both domestically and internationally, is at the centre of the outrage the NSA is causing as they are perceived by some to be going a step too far in protecting their proud and paranoid nation.
They have a responsibility to keep track of any possible criminal activities and cyberspace has been popular for people who advertise illegal activities. In this cyber realm, it is easy to pin such activity to a specific person when working in the NSA. This scale has its advantages and disadvantages as many people will feel that their rights are being infringed upon.
This branch of the US government is able to keep track of phone calls made in the US from both ends of the line. They also have easy access to the content of citizens’ emails and personal information on social networking sites, including instant messaging. Innocent civilians now have to be wary of the company they keep online and extra cautious when sending messages to avoid being considered a ‘threat’.
The US government might be using ‘terror’ attacks as an excuse to sift through their citizens’ private information and may be going a bit too far as it is an invasion of privacy. In recent years, the USA has experienced terror attacks that have shaped the future of its security systems. As a result of these attacks, the US government was forced to rework its security policies and adjust them accordingly, which include the private lives of its citizens.
Is the US government just asserting their power and control over their people and to a certain extent over the rest of the world as well?
A poll by the Washington Post-Pew Research Centre, which asked citizens whether they are in support of having their private lives scrutinised, found that 56% of the nation support what the NSA is doing. This statistic makes you wonder how much Americans really value privacy and the extent to which they idolise their government.
For us here in South Africa or various other countries, it must surely be a worrying factor that a foreign body such as the NSA has the power to access our personal information… especially if you have contacts in the USA and know that your phone calls to that country are going to be recorded.
What is even more disconcerting from a US point of view is that top companies from other nations who have an interest in venturing into the US will now have doubts about bringing their business into the country. This could be due to the fact that they wouldn’t want their trade secrets being leaked to rival companies. This seems to be happening too often for the NSA’s comfort, especially as they are in charge of security for the most powerful nation on earth. Companies might not want the US government to hack into their files in general.
In any case, the NSA is the most profound example of how surveillance is controlling our lives and how security seemingly has to be maintained at the expense of privacy. The Edward Snowden case is a prime example of the farcical values the USA places on privacy.
Up until a year ago, if you brought up the topic of Edward Snowden and the NSA in a conversation over dinner, you would be met with a quizzical expression. In recent months however, Edward Snowden and the NSA case has become a worldwide topic of discussion.
Snowden was a systems administrator for the NSA before he was charged with theft of government property, unauthorised communication of national defence information and ‘wilful’ communication of classified intelligence to an unauthorised person. He has been labelled as a ‘hero’, ‘traitor’ and even a ‘dissident’. It has been alleged that the NSA used high-tech software to spy on citizens by listening in on phone calls and decrypting emails, among other things.
Snowden leaked information to The Guardian that suggested this was true. Now you are probably wondering how this constitutes his being hailed as a ‘hero’. Snowden was privy to information that the US government and its security agencies allegedly used unconstitutionally. He made the life-changing decision to make this information public and is now wanted by the US government.
Snowden knew the missions and policies of the organisation that he worked for. Considering this, it is hard to believe that he would place his career – and possibly his life – on the line for what has now turned into a media frenzy. This means living his life in seclusion, cut off from his family, with whom he can only communicate via a third party as he ‘enjoys’ asylum in Russia. He has to wear a disguise when he wants to set foot outside.
This might just be delaying the inevitable process of his stand trial for taking it upon himself to divulge such information to ‘an unauthorised person’. It can hardly be said that a man who tackled an organisation that’s been around for three decades before him did so only to do it harm. He surely saw the public interest in it and considered it a ‘favour’ to his fellow citizens.
Snowden is still searching for permanent asylum, while many countries are unsure as to whether they should allow him entry or not. Trade agreements are important and countries such as Australia, Bahrain, Canada, Chile, Singapore, South Korea, Mexico and many more (according to the US State Department) will be reluctant to grant Snowden any kind of asylum as those countries have political alliances with the United States and could run the risk of putting those agreements in danger. Other countries such as Russia, China, India and many others can only grant temporary asylum as they have trade agreements with the countries that have trade agreements with the USA… and granting Snowden asylum could prove detrimental to those agreements.
So next time you send a ‘dodgy’ email to the US, do not be surprised if you see a drone heading your way.
Azeeza Samuels, Chevone Booysen, Marcel Trout and Warren Fortune