The big social media news today is that Edward Snowden, NSA whistleblower, is on Twitter:
Can you hear me now?
— Edward Snowden (@Snowden) September 29, 2015
Humorously, Snowden so far is only following one Twitter account: the NSA’s.
Of course, Snowden is responsible for exposing the various alphabet-soup government agencies that are collecting massive amounts of data about our lives, whether we are suspected of any illegal activities or not.
I part ways with a lot of my conservative friends over the issue of government surveillance and the power of the government to track our behavior. (Although some oppose an Obama-led government doing it, they would have no problem with the same activity by a Republican-led government. I am against it, no matter who is in charge.) This is odd, because being conservative means being suspicious of government overreach – and what is a better example of overreach than this?
When I try to convince my conservative friends of the problems of constant government surveillance, I am met with numerous objections.
One of the most common objections I get is “What do you have to hide?” The assumption being that if you aren’t doing anything wrong, who cares if the government knows about it.
Would you be fine with opening your curtains and shades to your house at all hours of the day? Would you be fine with allowing strangers to come into your house, unannounced and at any hour, to observe what you are doing? If you are doing nothing “wrong,” that should be no problem, right? Of course not. We all have a right to a certain amount of privacy, and people should be assumed innocent and left alone until there is very good evidence to the contrary.
Also, what is fine now might soon become unacceptable, and even illegal, in the eyes of society in the future. I especially emphasize this to my practicing Catholic and Evangelical friends. Who is to say that faithfulness to Catholic teaching might not one day soon be cause of suspicion? Before you call me paranoid, remember that we have already seen people lose their jobs because of their opposition to same-sex marriage. And of course this should put fear in both conservatives and liberals: history shows that what is considered acceptable today is unacceptable – and even persecuted – tomorrow. Do we really want to give that much power over our lives to such a fickle authority?
Another objection I get is “They are only tracking specific information used to finding and fighting terrorists.” Not so:
THERE WAS A SIMPLE AIM at the heart of the top-secret program: Record the website browsing habits of “every visible user on the Internet.”
Before long, billions of digital records about ordinary people’s online activities were being stored every day. Among them were details cataloging visits to porn, social media and news websites, search engines, chat forums, and blogs.
The mass surveillance operation — code-named KARMA POLICE — was launched by British spies about seven years ago without any public debate or scrutiny. It was just one part of a giant global Internet spying apparatus built by the United Kingdom’s electronic eavesdropping agency, Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ.
It is the height of naiveté to think that government officials will restrain themselves in what information they collect. There will always be a fear that some information will be missed that might lead to an arrest, so we have to keep collecting more and more. It will never end until every single action we take is catalogued and stored somewhere.
And the main objection I hear is “We can’t have another 9/11.” In other words, if this is the price of safety, so be it. I would argue that if we give in to the Surveillance State, then, as the saying goes, “the terrorists have already won.” After all, the Islamic extremists who perpetrated 9/11 would like nothing better than to control every aspect of your life, and to make sure that you are always doing exactly what they want. If we give power to our leaders to monitor our daily lives for any sign of deviance, how are we any different? Yes, it is possible that we will miss “another 9/11,” but there is no guarantee that massive surveillance will prevent one, and there is a guarantee that we will lose our freedoms with such massive surveillance.
I make no claims that Edward Snowden is a hero. But I do claim that he did this country a great service in exposing the massive overreach of the government. I just hope that people wake up to the threat and work to dismantle the Surveillance State.