Bader: NSA Surveillance goes too far

Anthony Bader

Since June of 2013, news stories have been pouring out about the activities of the United States National Security Agency (NSA). Documents leaked by Edward Snowden to The Guardian have revealed many programs in use by the NSA that many find to be invasive of American citizens’ privacy. The reports stated that the NSA has been using mass surveillance techniques to collect meta data on American citizens, and has been spying on the leaders of foreign nations of which we are supposed to have an amicable relationship.

PRISM is the name of the program under which the NSA has been collecting phone meta data on just about every person in the United States. The government claimed that this system of mass surveillance is essential to foiling terrorist plots that threaten our country’s national security. However, a report released by the New America Foundation stated that out of 225 individuals charged with terrorism, less than two percent were tracked using the NSA’s mass surveillance system. Furthermore, the information on each individual that was provided by the mass surveillance system could have been obtained in a reasonable amount of time through normal subpoenas.

Bottom line, the NSA is being granted too much power in this situation. Even if this mass surveillance system provided actual help to preventing terrorists, it would still be too invasive. The government exists to serve the people, not harass them. There are plenty of methods in place that can effectively be used to target actual dangerous people without indiscriminately collecting data on millions of innocent people. There are also many methods in place that are not so secretive and thus Americans can be notified when rules are broken. When the government spies on everyone without their knowledge — and only a selective few people can provide oversight of these government programs — the rules are bound to be broken sooner or later.

I’m not implying that the U.S. government is some evil, authoritarian entity bent on ruining our lives. There are many things our government does right. However, the main reason they do things right is because they are held accountable by the people. People are supposed to have more power than the government in a democracy. When the government starts to overstep its boundaries, it’s up to the country’s citizens to put their foot down.

Some may say that simply collecting phone metadata isn’t too big of a price to pay for improved national security. The mass surveillance may not seem like a big deal to the average American directly, but it is for those in influential or controversial positions such as leaders of national organizations or newspaper reporters. The government is always going to seek more power. The more power the government obtains, the more likely that power will be used for something for which it wasn’t intended. Something it might not be intended for would be silencing a newspaper reporter who is critical of the government. If that were to happen, we all lose because we don’t have accurate information with which to judge our leaders.

The U.S. government is by no means immune to corruption. The Watergate scandal, the Iran-Contra affair, and the government being less than truthful about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq are all example of government corruption and dishonesty. I would like to think that the majority of our national leaders are honest and upstanding, but keeping them honest and focused on the true good of this country is a responsibility that rests on all our shoulders.

It would be great if we could find a magic way to prevent all attacks against this country, but our government isn’t magic. This world is what it is, and bad things happen. We will never be able to stop all bad things from happening. Although we may be tempted to give up more and more of our rights for national security, we must resist. Living in a world where we have few freedoms and and seemingly little fear may not seem much better than a world with numerous freedoms but moderate fear.