Do we really have true privacy in America?
Privacy in America
March 1, 1792, privacy in America was born by the adoption of the Fourth Amendment (Amendment IV). The drafter’s of our Constitution wanted to ensure against unreasonable searches and seizures without warrant or probable cause in response to the abuse suffered under King George in pre-revolutionary America. However, the Fourth Amendment has been tested and privacy in America has been skewed since the United States was attacked on September 11, 2001 (9/11) by terrorist. In an effort to combat terrorism and future attacks, United States government agencies have been gathering information on its citizens through telephone and Internet surveillance. Some feel this is out of the scope of the Fourth Amendment. The details of these surveillance programs have come to light in recent months through the release of classified National Security Agency (NSA) documents outlining the scope of the program and who is or isn’t being watched.
Privacy Under Attack
In the past, because of the Fourth Amendment, we have enjoyed a reasonable expectation of privacy. Until 9/11, citizens of the United States have not had to worry about real or perceived threats to our country since the Cold War. The Cold War brought about suspicion and fear of communism. This was a response due in part to World War II, and the fight against the Nazi regime being fresh on our minds. Even though the United States fought beside the Soviets to stop the tide of Nazism, the United States had misgivings about Communism. The outcome of the war divided Germany with the Berlin Wall, and East Germany was under Communist rule until the late 1980’s. Privacy in America took a nosedive and McCarthyism was born. Republican Senator Joseph McCarthy, in an effort to block the spread of communism, created an air of suspicion against anyone who he thought sympathized or was associated with communist ideals. He used his power as a Senator to wreck the lives of countless Americans. Thousands of Americans were accused and aggressively targeted with secret and public investigations and questioned in front of government and private industry committees. The most famous of these was the hearings conducted by the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC). People lost their credibility, jobs and homes as a result of unfounded accusations. Fear took over America because there was a perceived threat looming to destroy the American way of life. Communism never took over America, maybe because Senator McCarthy’s methods made us more diligent. However, in 2013, the threat of terrorism is real but the question remains: does the government have the right to spy on its own citizens?
Hemorrhaging of Civil Liberties
With the dawn of the Internet, the government has acquired new tools for surveillance and the ability to gather information faster than ever before. This information can also get leaked and spread just as fast. Is leaking this information treasonous or in the interest of America’s right to privacy? If we go by the standard definition of treason, crimes that act against one’s sovereign or nation, then yes, leaking information into the public sector would be considered treason. Our enemies, known and unknown would gain access to this information because of the Internet and the current technology available to a lot of countries. The person leaking the information would be considered a traitor and their traitorous act would be punishable by firing squad. Although Americans, in a June 2013 poll, generally disapproved of these secret programs used by the NSA, they were split on whether the leaker was right or wrong (Gallup, 2013). The disapproval was based on the personal feeling of civil liberties being violated by these programs because it isn’t typically Americans who are the threats. Yes, there have been a few instances of Americans being twisted and attacking this country and our way life (Timothy McVeigh), but that was way before 9/11. The majority of the threats have come from foreign soil. Shortly after 9/11, Englishman Richard Reid, an Islamic fundamentalist, carried shoes packed with explosives. He is the reason we have to take off our shoes when going through airport security.
In 2006, terrorist, not of American origin, attempted to take down flights with everyday products such as shampoos, lotions, and other liquid items typically carried onto commercial flights. Again, no one involved was born in America. The plot was discovered and thwarted by British police. As a result, we are limited to three ounces of liquids in our carry-on luggage and must discard anything not purchased behind the security checkpoints. In light of all these incidents, surveillance makes sense. But not on American’s according to this recent poll. American’s are not the ones plotting to take this country down. The leaking of NSA documents shows that privacy in America is being whittled away and we may be falling back into a McCarthyism type era. But this time, we are not spying on our neighbor and turning people in like we did in that era. We seem to be banding together and demanding our government stick with the Constitution and attack the real enemy against liberty: terrorism. Terrorism is a worldwide problem and doesn’t discriminate based on geographic location. There isn’t a country on this planet that hasn’t suffered from acts of terrorism.
I would speculate the NSA has America’s best interest at heart but has gone about it the wrong way. I would speculate due to constraints with treaties and other diplomatic issues, the NSA is hard-pressed to be able to gather information on foreign soil without causing an international incident. The question: does America still have privacy? I speculate the answer is no. Not in the form guaranteed under the Fourth Amendment. I speculate Americans have had a false sense of privacy since the McCarthy era. I speculate even prior to 9/11, the government never stopped listening and watching citizens of this country. New technology makes it even easier for them to do so because people put their information out there on the Internet. No one hides anything on social media. It is easy to find information about anyone or anything. The information may not always be accurate but it is there for the taking. I speculate the NSA has taken advantage of this easy access in an effort to catch anyone who is a threat to our national security. I speculate they also underestimated American’s sensibilities when it comes to privacy. Maybe this is why the leaking of this information has been so controversial and American’s are split on whether the leaker is a traitor or champion of liberty. How will this saga unfold? Will privacy in America return as we once knew it or will our civil liberties continue to disappear? Only time will tell.
Fourth Amendment: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fourth_Amendment_to_the_United_States_Constitution