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Privacy Essay

The NSA and Snowden

❶Internet privacy and social media. Ultius Blog, 01 Dec.

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Why should I worry about privacy and security? These are things that most people think. They also believe the internet is much more secure and that their personal information is only available to them, whereas this is actually quite wrong. There are more reasons to want to protect your privacy than can be named.

The important principal is that you have a right to privacy as long as that right is used within the bounds of the law. Seeking privacy should not make you feel guilty. Privacy should be expected, and demanded. The reasons might be as simple as preserving your right to express unpopular opinions without being subjected to persecution, or as serious as communicating sensitive business information, revealing credit card numbers, legal discussions with your accountant, or hiding your true identity from a secret government.

Regardless of your reasons, privacy is your right. Contrary to what some governing bodies might want the public to believe, not all those concerned with security and privacy are hackers or terrorists. The internet provides one of the easiest communications tools ever afforded by mankind.

It is quick, convenient, cheap…. There have been times where information has be retrieved up to 6 months after, and used in a court case as evidence. It can be quite simple for someone to intercept your messages or information if they want it. This may be just an administrator of your ISP or your office network. Or it might be a business competitor, legal foe, or government agency, with much more serious intentions.

Such operations were conducted as part of a surveillance program known as Prism. The British newspaper The Guardian was instrumental in reporting on this issue as it was in the process of emerging. For example, in a news article from , Greenwald and MacAskill have written:. In any event, it is by now an indisputable fact that the NSA has in fact been spying on American citizens.

During this time, for example, the Patriot Act was passed, which essentially consisted of provisions that infringed on civil liberties in the name of national security see Library of Congress.

The idea was that in a time of national crisis, individuals should be willing to compromise of some of the individual rights for the sake of the well-being of the broader community as a whole. This would include the right to private communication, insofar as such privacy would potentially undermine the security of the nation. According to the Electronic Frontier Foundation, it was precisely the provisions of legislation such as the Patriot Act that the NSA has used to justify its activities; and rumors of unlawful spying have been present since at least the year It was only recently, though, that hard evidence emerged regarding these dubious activities.

Edward Snowden was the man who was primarily responsible for bringing the domestic surveillance activities of the NSA to the light of the public eye. Not only did the documents leaked by Snowden reveal that the NSA had in fact been engaging in domestic surveillance, it also revealed that it was primarily ordinary Americans who had nothing to do with any kind of investigation who were getting caught by the surveillance. As Gellman, Tate, and Soltani have put it:. The daily lives of more than 10, account holders who were not targeted are catalogued and recorded nevertheless" paragraphs 1 and 7.

In other words, the NSA was found to have violated the online privacy of Americans not simply within the context of legitimate investigations but rather as a matter of course, as if the value of individual privacy were no longer even a relevant factor to take into consideration when planning surveillance actions. Such revelations have made a significant impact on the perceptions of Americans regarding online privacy. For example, Malden, writing on behalf of the Pew Internet Research Project, has delineated some key statistics regarding Americans' perceptions of online privacy; and among other things, it has been found that.

Moreover, correlations were found between increased levels of insecurity on the one hand and greater awareness of the NSA's surveillance program on the other. In short, the events surrounding NSA and Snowden have had a strong effect on the popular culture of electronic communication within the United States. A strong majority of people now seem to take it almost for granted that some stakeholder or another is illicitly monitoring their private communications, and that they must take steps in order to protect themselves from such invasions of personal privacy.

The general mindset within the nation regarding online privacy is thus marked by a very high level of suspicion and mistrust. At this point in the discussion, it may be useful to turn attention to a specific forum for online communication: Despite denials from the founder of the company, there would seem to be a significant popular perception that Facebook did in fact collude with the NSA and gave up the personal information of its users to the government.

Whether this is or is not true, it is rather revealing about the level of trust that Facebook users have in the integrity of the company. According to Debatin, Lovejoy, Horn, and Hughes, many Facebook users seem to exhibit an ambivalent behavioral trend in which they both report being highly aware of privacy issues and yet nevertheless upload significant amounts of personal information onto their Facebook accounts.

These researchers have addressed this issue from a somewhat anthropological perspective and concluded that the paradox can be explained by how ritualistically integrated social media sites become into users' lives:. This significantly reduces users' practical concern for privacy even as they understand the concern in theory.

This also calls attention to a broader point regarding online privacy: For example, a given Facebook user may upload compromising photographs onto his account without even thinking about the fact that for example his boss could access those photographs in a fully legal and legitimate way.

Something similar can be said about other forms of online communication as well: That is, Internet users would make their lives essentially open to the public without even realizing they are doing so; and anyone who wanted the users' information could simply take it without even being in violation of the law.

In this context, the NSA revelations may have ultimately had at least some positive effect, insofar as they have clearly contributed to Americans becoming more aware of the nature of the dangers at play see Maden.

It is worth turning now to a more careful reflection on the ethical principles that are involved when discussing the subject of online privacy. In particular, one perceives something of a double standard that nevertheless is not illegitimate. On the one hand, when the NSA conducts a secret surveillance program against Americans, this is generally interpreted to mean that the NSA fundamentally lacks transparency, which is unacceptable for a governmental organization within a democratic society.

On the other, when Snowden leaks the NSA's "private" information to the public, this is generally interpreted not as an assault against the NSA's privacy but rather as a defense of the privacy of American citizens. Similarly, Facebook cannot demand that its users become "transparent" and thus willing to share private information with the public; rather, it is expected that Facebook will be transparent with its privacy policy and ensure the security of its users' information.

The general principle that emerges here, then, is that organizations are expected to be transparent toward their constituents, but that individual constituents are not therefore obliged to be transparent in turn toward the organization. This proposition would seem to be informed by a fundamentally libertarian political perspective, where libertarianism can be understood in the broadest sense as a.

Essentially, privacy is among the most individualistic of all ethical values; and whenever one insists on the value of privacy, one implicitly also insists on the priority of the individual over the community.

Thus, if it is inappropriate for the NSA to spy on its own people, then this is because the NSA was only established by the constituent power of the people in the first place, and its fundamental obligation would thus be to protect the rights of those people i.

Americans and not to violate those rights.

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