So in the event that this is news to you, the NSA is once again attempting expand their powers. Because I’m sure we can all agree they didn’t have enough already.
So what are they doing now, you might ask? It’s a bill that would allow US companies to collect virtually any data they so desired on you and other users so long as they agreed to share that data with the NSA. So in other words, offer companies a blank check so long as they share their information with the NSA.* Or one could call it a legalized loophole. Whichever analogy you wish to go with, I think we can all agree that this sounds a bit alarming. While you might consider this “not my problem” if you live outside the US, I would like to remind you that this would apply to companies such as Google, Amazon, Facebook, and others that quite a few of us use on almost a daily basis, sometimes more. Perhaps you think you are finally Google-free??? Hopefully you never visit YouTube. As such, I think it is rather plain to see that this bill would most likely have some far-reaching effects for many outside the US, especially if you happen to live in a country that is also part of the Five Eyes, considering intelligence information is often shared between the NSA and the other four countries that compose this five-part alliance.
With this in place, any of your activity not caught and logged by the NSA when using online platforms from here on out will be. With this, privacy-respecting Open Source software will become even more of a necessity in the modern world. A browser not produced by Google. A search engine not based in the US. And dare I say it? A password manager – like LastPass – but one that is not US-based. For all of these, Open Source alternatives free from US-control exist. Might they be slightly more inconvenient for you day-to-day? That is certainly a possibility. But then again, your decision only displays how willing you are to stand behind your convictions, at least if that conviction entails the ideal that privacy plays a pivotal role in any democracy. If it does not, then I suggest you at least consider some of the points made in the video below.
Emotions aside, democracy itself cannot properly function without at least some level of individual privacy and some level of personal space. Consider for a moment the idea that twenty years from now your country’s leader changes (be that through an election, or any other normal process that your respective country engages in), and while this leader is in power a terrorist attack happens to occur. As shown by the 9/11 attack on the Twin Towers, in the aftermath of catastrophic events such as that one, citizens and politicians are emotionally ready to take whatever measures necessary to attain the illusion of safety – even if it comes at the price of freedom. And when a country and its people feel threatened, it is well documented that any motions to protect individual freedoms are often regarded with a suspicion of treason. After all, what politician in their right mind would dare to vote against the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act that legitimized the NSA’s activities only days after a terrorist attack? It was purposefully named P.A.T.R.I.O.T. for a reason after all. Last time a terrorist attack against the United States occurred, it responded in part by giving the NSA free reign to do as they wished, all in the name of their citizens’ own safety. So in this hypothetical scenario of yet another terrorist attack were to occur under a new leader, what would happen then? Would that country take it a step further and act on the full extent of the freedoms that had been previously granted to its equivalent of the NSA? After all, it would take but one leader to make the decision to utilize all this information garnered by the NSA to the full extent of the law. All it would take would be a single stroke of ink to put a law into effect that allows the NSA to use all the information collected over the years to the full extent of the law on each and every one of its citizens. Perhaps you trust those in power today. But what about tomorrow? Perhaps the thoughts and comments that you are bringing to the international playing field we know as the Internet are non-confrontational and politically correct today. What guarantee will you have that those same comments you make online today will be politically correct fifty years from now, enduring the test of time and the changing political views of any country? Because the NSA does not just know who you are today, they know who you were yesterday. And last year. And the year before that. If someone were to walk up to you with a completed timeline of every activity you had ever been involved in and every written word you had ever typed over the span of your entire life, what would you think? Whether or not you believe that privacy is important to our society today, you would have to be suspicious – and a bit unnerved – by this person. The truly devastating thing about this supposed situation is that if you are reading this post, it is not supposed at all. You are online, and your digital profile has already begun.
What about security though? If many say that more privacy results in less security, how can one justify the arguments above? I would like to mention that this line of thinking, while logical at first, relies on the ignorance of those who proclaim them. For instance, despite the NSA’s ever-increasing surveillance – supposedly for our own safety – they have yet to have been able to use any of this information to stop an attack or crime at all. In its entire history, not once has their aggressive approach towards their own citizen’s privacy enabled those same citizens to live a more secure life. In fact, it has resulted in quite the opposite! With the NSA storing a complete copy of your digital self all in one spot, all bundled up and complete with a bow, the chances of someone gaining access to information that could prove crippling for you is increased exponentially. Your identity has already been indexed, and is just sitting and gathering dust in some mass storage facility within the US. Whether or not you are a US citizen, rest assured you information is being preserved by the NSA.
Of course that is not to say that nothing should be done in the name of security. After all, Israel has proven that it can ensure near-perfect security on all its airlines and in its airports without invading your privacy at all. In fact, Israel is the only county on the face of the Earth to have never experienced a hijacking of any kind on its airlines – and they are located near one of the most volatile locations on Earth, the Middle East! Instead of engaging in massive security measures that all flyers must be subjected to, Israel instead simply removes the problem altogether in the first place. They build each and every cockpit to be bullet-proof, and then the pilots proceed to lock themselves inside for the duration of the flight. (The lock is on the inside of the cockpit by the way). There is no point for a hijacker to attempt to take control of an Israeli aircraft when access to the cockpit is guaranteed to fail anyways. However, the rest of the world has failed to follow suit, with the US leading the charge to instead increase surveillance on its flyers rather than take relatively simple measures as Israel has done.
So if all this is already taking place, what makes the society we live in today any different from the one that George Orwell’s 1984 writes about? The surveillance system in 1984 could only watch you through your television set and various stationary cameras mounted outdoors. Today, those cameras are not stationary but travel wherever you do as your personal smartphone. Today, that television can not only see and hear you, but talk back through the voice of Siri, Alexa, Google Voice, or some other voice assistant. Today, we are no longer fearful of this surveillance state, but instead are voluntary – if not eager – participants in it. Sometimes even sponsors. Of course you might say that the difference is that today we do not utilize these surveillance systems like those in 1984 did. Instead, I would append the word “yet” onto that statement. We do not utilize these surveillance systems like those in 1984 did yet. If a government has the capabilities to do something as controlling as those in 1984 did without a need to develop any additional technology or framework, but instead can do so with the mere flip a switch or a signature, the question should not be “will someone do this”, the question should be “when will someone do this”. Are we any more shrewd than those in the book who accept anything they are told, when we invite these devices into our homes? Even those in the novel didn’t do that! So before you begin to think that this newly proposed law by the NSA should neither apply to nor concern you, think again. Think about whether you wish to be a long-term participant in the state of surveillance we are finding ourselves in, or if you wish to be a spark for democracy, for freedom, and for human decency.
– An offtopic post by Keegan
* I recently found out that the website I gathered the information regarding the CISA bill was outdated, and while the information looked current, in fact upon digging deeper (by cross-referencing things online), it appears this bill has already passed – as in, a little over a year ago. I am so sorry for the misinformation above, however that in no way negates any of the content – as it should only serve to cement the realization in our minds that privacy, freedom, and democracy are worth protecting in any nation. In fact, it should serve to instead cement the realization of a need to act, as well as to remain aware to the world around you.