Bill of Rights

Privacy Is About Freedom: Why The NSA’s Data Collection Should Scare Us

Bill of RightsReports have surface thanks to Edward Snowden and The Guardian newspaper that the National Security Agency and its for-profit private contractors have been collecting data on American citizens through phone records, email and more. The NSA program called PRISM has a facility to collect and sort all of this information to keep us “safe,” and we are paying for it literally, as taxpayers, and figuratively, as we lose our freedoms.

Many people have said that they thought the government was already doing this as the Patriot Act has existed for over a decade. While I believe the Patriot Act should’ve never passed or in the very least, should have been repealed long ago, its sweeping power doesn’t even sanction this as defining the word “relevant” to be everything and everyone is a bit of a stretch. Everything we do is recorded — who we talk to, how long, how often — and has been for the past seven years for millions of people. This is domestic spying. To quote Snowden:

“I, sitting at my desk, certainly had the authorities to wiretap anyone, from you, or your accountant, to a federal judge, to even the President if I had a personal email.”

And the old blow off of “if you don’t do anything wrong, who cares” doesn’t apply either. Look at Snowden. He blew the whistle on something that is unethical and unconstitutional and had to flee the country. Or Bradley Manning, which even if one doesn’t agree with everything he leaked, how can anyone disagree with him leaking the video which proves a U.S. Apache attack helicopter killed two Reuters journalists in 2007 and that the military then lied – claiming they did not have video showing how they died? Those families deserved to know. Aren’t we tired of being lied to?

How will we define “wrong” next? Who we talk to? Who we worship? Where we donate money? I know people who think just being Muslim is enough to be suspicious. Or being Mexican. Or supporting Bradley Manning. Where will the lines be tomorrow? Will it be like Russia and Pussy Riot’s two-year jail sentence for hooliganism?  Or like those attempting a peaceful protest to save a park in Turkey? Will it be Tea Party activists trying to getting IRS approval? Or Greenpeace?

I never thought I’d live in a country that would have a prison like Guantanamo.  I never thought I would live in a country that would stop teaching the theory of evolution in certain states because they didn’t understand the word “theory.” I never thought I’d live in a country that spied on itself because their program has a 51% chance of telling a foreigner from a U.S. citizen. Of course, I imagine those who lived through white kids fleeing to churches in the south rather than attending desegregated schools or Japanese interment camps or McCarthyism or all the times our country has used fear and otherness and government and hate and war and terror to ignore our Constitution as a document that expands rather than contracts, felt the same way. It may not be new, but it’s not okay.

President Obama stated that this collected information would be in the hands of the people we elected. The people we elected didn’t vote to repeal the Patriot Act 37 times. They voted to repeal healthcare. They think it’s better to pretend 11 million immigrants don’t exist than give them a path to citizenship. They let drones fly everywhere and let emotions take over medical care but not gun regulations. Even the President. The President I elected was supposed to be different from Bush. He was supposed to believe that our liberties were more important than our safety. Or guaranteeing our liberty made us safer than anything else. The price freedom was not war  in other countries but standing up to the tyranny within our own.

Video of 2007 Obama versus 2013 Obama

The government has too much power and too much leverage to be mining data on individuals. Privacy is freedom. I am one person who can be taken away, and all the guns and all the ammo will not be enough. Every amendment must be defended with the same vigor that people come out for the second amendment, which is pretty much the only one that hasn’t been affected in the last decade.

The fourth amendment must be reintroduced as a right for every citizens and anyone who steps foot in the United States of America. This is also a first amendment issue in as far as our press should be able to take information from a whistleblower, vet it, and publish it. The press should be able to protect their sources and expose our government’s criminal and unconstitutional activities. We should be allowed to have freedom of association. It is who we are and who we should always be. This is not liberal or conservative, Democrat or Republican  This is our country versus some bastardized version that we have long mocked in countries around the world. Parades for heroes after which people hide in their homes pretending everything is fine. (By the way, the ACLU has brought a  lawsuit.)

There is a computer that probably has our information in it and that should scare the crap out of us because we can’t do anything about it except hope no one decides we’ve done something wrong one day. Even our American prison system isn’t constitutionally sound if we are lucky enough to be tried in the U.S. Justice system and not whisked away to some hidden CIA cell.

“Because even if you’re not doing anything wrong, you’re being watched and recorded. And the storage capability of these systems increases every year consistently by orders of magnitude to where it’s getting to the point where you don’t have to have done anything wrong, you simply have to eventually fall under suspicion from somebody, even by a wrong call. And then they can use the system to go back in time and scrutinize every decision you’ve ever made. Every friend you’ve ever discussed something with. And attack you on that basis, to derive suspicion from an innocent life, and paint anyone in the context of a wrongdoer.”-Snowden

I wish I was just paranoid, but everything is true: over a decade of ignoring the Constitution in favor of domestic spying, hidden prisons, secret courts, continuous attacks on the press, on whistleblowers, on private citizens, and for what? How many tragedies have we had this year? It is not liberty versus safety. It is freedom versus fear, and we’re losing a much more dangerous battle.

Alex Iwashyna

Alex Iwashyna went from a B.A. in philosophy to an M.D. to a SAHM, poet and writer by 30. She spends most of her writing time on, a humor blog (except when it's serious) about her husband fighting zombies, awkward attempts at friendship, and dancing like everyone is watching. She also has a soft spot for culture, politics, and rude Southern people who offend her Yankee sensibilities. She parents 2 elementary-aged children, 1 foster baby, 3 cats, and 1 puppy, who are all Southern but not rude. Yet.

9 thoughts to “Privacy Is About Freedom: Why The NSA’s Data Collection Should Scare Us”

  1. The New York Times, who has propped up President Obama since 2007, as a liberal messiah, is drilling him daily on this domestic spying issue.

    Look, I don’t care about Ds and Rs. If the basis of our entire government – freedom, is being subverted for any reason, and I don’t care if the nSA was busting up terrorists cells every day, then it’s wrong and one of the worst scandals in American history.

    I said to anyone who would listen when the Patriot Act was passed that it would come back to haunt us in more peaceful times. Snowden is a hero for blowing whistle. I don’t care if he kills a guy tomorrow. For what he did, he’s a hero. If I had room, he could stay with me and my 4 women.

    This is an attack on freedom. Period. Forget politics. Be an American…everyone.

    *off soapbox with fist raised*

  2. If the government is going to spy on me, I wish they would tell me who keeps calling and hanging up on me from Minnesota and Washington. Also I wish I would stop using stupid “humor” as a defense mechanism for things that are so large and so worrying that I can’t come up with a coherent argument for them.

    I agree with your words. Freedom is important. I don’t like the implication that surrendering freedom is the only way to be safe. Giving up our freedom means sacrificing something that is a sacrosanct part of the foundation of our country.

  3. I’m not going to go looking for it to cite it, but I read either last week or at the beginning of this week that NSA staff actually had gotten to the point where they’d send each other messages to check out certain audio files and timestamps to laugh or gawk at stuff they were hearing. Not suspect, terror/criminal stuff…things like deployed soldiers having phone sex with their lovers back home. That’s appalling.

    I don’t know the technology being used. I’ve always presumed that transmission intercepts done by the NSA were based on software-based recognition and flagging of audio, at which point an investigator would cue up the flagged information and go to work. But ten years ago, that probably *was* limited to very specific, very terror-oriented flagging because of the state of computer/processing capability. Now, with the massive leaps and bounds in that same capability, and with the safe assumption that a lot of other agencies and personnel have co-opted these systems to do the data mining THEY want (IRS, anyone?), we’re in a territory of systemic abuse of capabilities.

  4. Honestly I think it is getting so hard for us to even talk to each other because no one seems to have the same definition of “freedom” anymore. I can get behind “freedom” as you describe it above, but not “freedom” as I hear it when folks are arguing to fight against background checks and limitations on the second amendment. Navigating how to protect our rights while also regulating them to allow society as a whole to function is incredibly difficult and sadly there are very few in charge who are willing to try. People want to stick to the status quo and whatever is the path of least resistance.

  5. Excellent post. I had to keep scrolling up to the banner to make sure I hadn’t written it. Logic says I’d should be congratulating you on finally seeing what I’ve been talking about for years. In reality, I find myself sad. Our Representative Republic has faded away. I recently read an article doing the math on Congress and coming to the conclusion that there aren’t enough members to adequately represent all of us. That the number is so small that it could be said it is the number of special interest groups. The news reported that we will now be arming Al Queda in Syria. The loudest proponent being Senator McCain. The difference in the parties has blurred into one party with two different degrees of fascism.
    Read my latest post for another fun fact about the current administration. Click the link below.

  6. Yesterday after reading this the next podcast I listened to was all about this topic. You may have heard most of this, but I thought I would post it here in case anyone wanted to listen.

    I live in what I would call a “police” state. We are stopped and searched often by both the police and the border patrol. We have an under sheriff here that was having an affair with a woman and when her husband came home and found them, the sheriff shot and killed him. There was no trial and he is still a sheriff. This is the kind of integrity we are talking about and that is only one little story. I have many more to tell. So, when I think about law enforcement having access to all of my personal data, this comment for example, it scares the crap out of me. I also think about stories like the one where a pilot diverted the plane and made a family exit it because they didn’t want their young children to watch an R rated movie during the flight ( What if the government had access to all of their personal information? Would they piece together some kind of reason to arrest them (or worse) just to not appear foolish? Some people will call it alarmist or a conspiracy theory, but it is very real and it is happening. These powers are being abused right now.

    I am waiting for the lawsuits to start.

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