In 2010, it became legal for the National Security Agency (NSA) to access private email logs, social media accounts and other internet databases (Risen & Poitras, “N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens). Risen and Poitras (2013) explain that the intention of this change was to help protect the United States (U.S.) from future terrorist attacks and was for the general purpose of national safety. It is unclear how many terrorist attacks all of this new intelligence has actually prevented, however, it is very clear that the NSA’s actions are violating the privacy of not only American citizens, but everyone who lives on American soil. With the internet as a resource, this means that they can not only listen in to conversations, but access virtually any data that is entered via the internet. This includes credit card numbers, GPS coordinates, flight destinations, contact information for family members, personal pictures and much more. The NSA not only violates the constitutional rights of American citizens, it puts everyone in the country at great personal risk for crimes such as fraud and discrimination. One of the greatest issues with the access the NSA has is that it violates the constitutional privacy laws. The fourth amendment to the Bill of Rights, protects the American people “…against unreasonable searches… but upon probable cause…” (“The Bill of Rights: A Transcription”).
Risen and Poitras (2013) reveal that the NSA is not even required to check that the individuals they gather information about are foreigners or have anything to do with foreign relations. This extensive access to all personal data including bank accounts, GPS coordinates and insurance information is the definition of an unreasonable search without probable cause. Everyone’s information is collected and stored before there is any reason for the government to search for it. This is in direct violation of the people’s constitutional rights. Of further concern is the deceit with which the NSA continues to address its capabilities. “Jon Stewart Slams Obama’s Domestic Spying Program” explains that although President Obama claimed that emails and phone calls of the general public were not being tracked, it later became evident that this was not the case. It turns out that the internet has become just one more tool for the government to use to spy on its residents. Yet the lies divulged by the NSA demonstrate that not only are Americans being spied on, they have no way of truly knowing which of their personal information is at risk.
As a result, it becomes even more difficult to protect oneself from privacy breaches and indicates the NSA, itself, is not an entity that can be trusted. After all, if they are lying about what they are collecting, there is no way of guaranteeing that they are not also lying about other aspects of their operation, including the way in which the personal information is used. Those close to NSA staff members are particularly vulnerable to internet privacy violations. In “Jon Stewart Slams Obama’s Domestic Spying Program” a news clip shows that NSA workers have been known to use their capabilities to spy on their loved ones. Clearly the private internet information collected by the NSA can and is misused on a regular basis. According to “The NSA’s New Spy Facilities Are 7 Times Bigger than the Pentagon” the agency has thousands of employees who are apparently able to use their resources to spy on anyone they are personally interested in. This could lead to the destruction of personal relationships and very dangerous behavior such as stalking or even murder. Another large group of vulnerable individuals are those who bank online. Anyone who uses the internet to make purchases or even view their banking information becomes at an increased risk of fraud.
Not only does the NSA have access to all of their information, the mere existence of it means that it can be hacked into or even leaked. Persons of all socioeconomic backgrounds are now vulnerable to theft of their hard earned money as a result of the NSA’s alleged attempt to prevent terrorism. Furthermore, the bank information can be used in such a way that it not only deplete funds, but permanently destroys credit backgrounds and entire identities. According to Risen and Poitras (2013) all foreigners are at a greater risk for being monitored online. This includes both groups that are legally and illegally present in the U.S. and even those who have obtained citizenship. Although the purpose of spying on foreign residents more heavily appears to address the need to prevent terrorism, many (if not most) of these individuals have done nothing to warrant a search of their virtual belongings. It is as if the NSA presumes that everyone could be guilty unless they are proven innocent, which is the exact opposite of the way in which the U.S. judicial court operates. In fact, such tactics are a blatant form of discrimination.
Mental health patients are also at particular risk. Although their information is supposed to be confidential and kept strictly between a patient and doctor, the NSA is able to view these communications when they occur online. Such access essentially vetoes the doctor-patient confidentiality agreement. A potential result is the decrease in trust within these delicate relationships and, furthermore, a decline in treatment success. Kaiser patients, for example, are able to email their doctors to access their services more quickly and conveniently. Since these emails can be viewed by the NSA, patients may resist using this valuable resource. Some patients may refrain from revealing information altogether, even via a face-to-face appointment, since medical records are now often published within internet systems for the purpose of more efficient care. Finally, innocent children are put at risk by the NSA’s monitoring of private internet information. Whether parents want to share photographs of their pride and joy with family or tweens are exploring their social relationships, the NSA is watching. For any parent is uncomfortable to think that a stranger, whether or not they work for the government, can view pictures or information about a child with the click of a button.
This group may also be the least protected online because they may not know that their information can secretly be seen. Although parents can try to safeguard their youngsters from the general public via computer restrictions and monitoring, they cannot protect them from the capabilities of the NSA. In conclusion, the NSA may be causing more harm than good with their legalized privacy breaches. Everyone is at risk, whether they are aware of it or not. It appears that the potential harm to society is not being weighed properly against the desired gain. There is not denying that it is in the best interest of all American residents that terrorism be prevented, however, the current tactics being used seem inefficient and costly to our society. Innocent people are being persecuted while criminals find ways around this flawed system of spies.
If the public is aware that they are being monitored, terrorists are aware as well. It would be in the best interest of the NSA to find alternate, and more sophisticated ways to identify potential hazards instead of surveying the entire U.S. population via the internet. In fact, it is likely that the dangerous persons we seek will be the first to remove relevant communications from the internet, given the circumstances. By creating paranoia and destroying the U.S. quality of life, we may be creating exactly what terrorist parties are working to achieve.
“The Bill of Rights: A Transcription.” National Archives and Records Administration. National Archives and Records Administration. Web. 31 Aug. 2014. . “The Constitution.” The Constitution. Web. 01 Sept. 2014. .
“Jon Stewart Slams Obama’s Domestic Spying Program.” YouTube. YouTube. Web. 01 Sept. 2014. . “The NSA’s New Spy Facilities Are 7 Times Bigger Than the Pentagon.” Defense One. Web. 02 Sept. 2014. . Risen, James, and Laura Poitras. “N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S. Citizens.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 28 Sept. 2013. Web. 02 Sept. 2014. .