The National Security Agency is an intelligence organization in the United States that oversees many surveillance activities, especially in the field of electronics. The NSA has combined with four other secret intelligence organizations to form a powerful coalition known as The Five Eyes. Members of the Five Eyes have remained extremely secretive in their activities, especially those that could be considered controversial. Many of these activities, such as phone call tracking, affect innocent people. This is where we find a significant problem with the NSA and other organizations regarding our personal safety and privacy. Contrary to the ideas of these surveillance groups, individual privacy should be prioritized above the goals of a secretive organization.
There are many members outside of the NSA that support the activities of the organization. The people who support increased surveillance believe that privacy is not as important as information gathering. As Patrick E. Gauen of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch claims, “The Constitution enumerates no specific right to privacy” (Gauen). Without the support of the Constitution, this group believes that making laws regarding privacy is not in the interest of the American people. They claim that taking in massive amounts of data from citizens all across the globe is necessary to maintain the safety of the nation. The data the NSA collects includes records of phone calls, texts, emails, and even internet browsing history. These records are analyzed for key signal phrases or words that could be linked to terrorism, even though the findings of this research are not released to the public. According to Martin Pengelly of The Guardian, this idea is supported by Jeb Bush, a former Florida governor, who said that “the metadata programme has kept us safe, plain and simple. There’s been no violation of civil liberties” (Pengelly). By allowing the NSA to scrutinize our interactions without a higher power regulating their surveillance techniques, we have no choice but to trust entirely in an organization that we know little of.
While it is a romantic idea to believe that we can entrust our personal lives to a secretive organization with “national safety” as their main goal, this is not a realistic mindset. First of all, the vast amount of data that the NSA stores and searches through is not only unnecessary, but a violation of privacy. The right to live without being constantly monitored is an unwritten law. Although the United States government currently disagrees with this idea, the American public does not. A poll taken by the Washington Post that was mentioned by Mark Jaycox of the Electronic Frontier Foundation revealed that “66 percent of Americans were concerned about the collection and use of [their] personal information by the National Security Agency” (Jaycox). This shows that the majority of Americans would support changing policies regarding personal privacy.
Another important point is that the NSA is not held accountable for its actions. If we had a way to see the inner workings of the NSA, then we could gain trust in the organization. However, as of now the NSA remains shrouded in secrecy. Most members of the public do not even know what information of theirs is being stored, let alone what the information is being used for. This lack of public knowledge allows the NSA to disregard the law by participating in morally questionable activities.
The government of the U.S. is ideologically based on a system of checks and balances. This means that each section of the government has another section that watches its actions and intervenes when necessary. If this system has been practiced for several hundred years by the government as a whole, it is logical to expect the programs sponsored by the U.S. to be governed by the same system. Furthermore, one of these bodies keeping the NSA in check should be the general public. The practices of the NSA would be much more honest and fair if they became common knowledge.
By holding the NSA accountable, we could force the NSA to focus more on the communications of potential threats to the nation, instead of everyone that uses electronics. According to Glen Greenwald of The Guardian, whistleblower Edward Snowden stated that, “a top secret NSA program allows analysts to search with no prior authorization through vast databases containing emails, online chats and the browsing histories of millions of individuals” (Greenwald). It is ridiculous to believe that there are millions of individuals that need to be analyzed by the NSA. If all of the manpower currently dedicated to this job was concentrated together to focus on main suspects, the success rate of the NSA could potentially skyrocket. The amount of innocent people having their lives tracked would also decrease.
Everyone wants to feel safe and secure. However, the measures we take to stay safe must not overstep our desire for privacy. Dismantling the entire NSA would be a disservice to our country, along with our allied nations. Instead of tearing the NSA down, we should instead push lawmakers to force the NSA to reveal its secrets to the public. Doing so will increase the public’s trust and support of the agency. Politicians will only support change if they hear constant demands from the public to defend their privacy. By demanding that restrictions be placed on the NSA, we can also improve the security of our nation. The agency would become much more efficient. It is up to us, the public, to support laws that will make the actions of the NSA public knowledge. If we don’t act soon to improve society, who will?
The writer is a student at Edison State Community College. This editorial was written to meet a class requirement.