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Privacy vs. Surveillance Essay

NSA Surveillance Program: A Threat to Civilians Privacy Since the beginning of WWI, spying activity has become a very important part of national security to United States. To track the activity of people, U.S.A. has many spying agencies and National Security Agency (NSA) is one of them. NSA is the main producer and manager of signal intelligence for the United States. It collects, monitors, translates, and analyses global information, and data for intelligence purposes and performs surveillance programs inside the United States. The activity of NSA and the issue of the privacy of citizens has long been debated for decades. With advanced technology and newly installed equipment it is possible to spy on almost everyone.

Though the law enforcement officials consider the NSA surveillance programs as necessary weapons in the war of terror, the civil rights groups claim that it is a clear violation of civilian privacy protected by the Constitution of the United States. The U.S. Constitution gives every U.S. citizen the right to protect their privacy. The Fourth Amendment prohibits “unreasonable ‘searches and seizures’ and sets out requirements for search warrants based on probable cause as determined by a neutral judge or magistrate” (U.S. Constitution). But the NSA argues that because of security reasons surveillance programs should be continued and appeals to Congress “not to limit the powers” of NSA. After the disclosures of the classified documents by the former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, it has become clear that NSA willingly avoided judicial system, conducted much broader surveillance program and did not abide by the Constitution at a least bit. The Guardian reports the vastness of the disclosure shocked many people, including the elected representatives of the Congress who were unaware of the extent of the surveillance.

NSA conducts domestic surveillance through a number of programs. The agency never publishes any comprehensive, official list of programs. The majority of the surveillance programs are “classified”, meaning that they are not available to public. The only reason people know about these programs is because of the whistle blower Edward Snowden who disclosed classified documents after meeting Glenn Greenwald, a reporter of The Guardian. The first disclosed classified document was about the “Pilot Project”, which contents shook the country. On October 2, 2013 The New York Times reported that NSA carried out a secret pilot project in 2010 and 2011 “to test the collection of bulk of data about the location of Americans’ cellphones”. The existence of pilot project was also confirmed by James R. Clapper, the director of national intelligence, at a senate judiciary committee hearing.

The pilot project “used data from cellphone towers to locate anyone” who is using any electronic device which is Wi-Fi or cellular technology enabled. This project was a serious violation of Fourth Amendment and has been highly criticized both by the lawmakers and U.S. citizens. As prof. William Stuntz, a criminal justice scholar and a professor at Harvard Law School, points out the Fourth Amendment was drafted partly in reaction to the British Government in eighteenth century which carried out “general warrants to seize personal diaries and letters in support of seditious- libel prosecutions” that were aimed to suppress political thought. The top secret documents reveal that the NSA is collecting and storing the online metadata of millions of internet users, “regardless of whether or not they are the persons of interest to the agency” (The Guardians).

Metadata is a cloud or “envelope that includes the duration of a phone call, the identity of the caller and the receiver; for an email it could include the location information, the sender and the recipient, time, and sometimes it’s content, the web browsing history of an user and in some case account passwords. This envelope can be used to create a detailed picture of an individual’s life. From the disclosed classified documents of Edward Snowden, The Guardian reported on September 30, 2013 that “NSA has developed a metadata repository, codenamed Marina”. Any computer metadata collected by NSA software is directed to the Marina database, Phone records are directed to a separate system. The agency is also gathering information from Facebook, twitter, Skype to build individual profile of every U.S. citizen (The New York Times). This type of practice of NSA greatly hampers civilians’ right to free speech. Extensive surveillance is harmful because it desponds the exercise of civil liberties. Just consider the surveillance of mass people when they are reading, thinking, and communicating with each other in order to make decisions about social and political issues. The only solution to protect our intellectual privacy to ‘think and decide’ is we need “intellectual freedom” from state interference.

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