By AMEER MALIK, political columnist
According to The Guardian, the whistleblower Edward Snowden, a former employee of the defense contractor Booz Allen Hamilton working for the National Security Agency, met with two of the newspaper’s journalists, Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, as well as documentary filmmaker Laura Poitras, on June 1, 2013, in Hong Kong. Snowden leaked classified United States government documents that have detailed extensive programs by the NSA to collect information on United States citizens. These programs include PRISM, which collects information from major Internet companies such as Facebook, Google, and Microsoft, and XKeyscore, which can gather online data like browsing histories and emails from millions of people without any prior authorization. The leaked documents also claim that the NSA stores metadata—information that arises from using technology, including the lengths of phone calls and the recipients of emails—on millions of people for up to one year, even if the people are not targets of the NSA. Since the incident, Snowden has been seeking asylum in a foreign country.
All of these invasive measures by the NSA have been done in the name of national security. However, I cannot help but marvel at the extent of such programs. As technology advances, more intense methods of surveillance develop; gone are the days of simple video cameras and microphones. The people of this country cannot even be free from the government’s eye in their own homes.
What the government is doing now is no doubt a step in a dangerous direction. If it can get away with programs as intrusive as this, what can prevent it from furthering its surveillance? What can prevent it from invading other parts of our lives? The government can justify these practices as much as it wants to, claiming that it has the interests of the American people in mind. But what it possesses through the NSA programs is an absurdly immense amount of power. The government can track and store intimate details which can be used to cause much harm to millions of people, especially if they’re considered threats. Now some may say that they have nothing to hide; the NSA can track whatever they do because they do nothing wrong on the web. But what would be considered wrong? Would reading the blog of a radical political thinker be a red flag? Would immaturely joking about violence be cause for alarm?
I want to be safe as much as anyone else does, but not at this cost. I do not want my government to possess such virtually limitless power in its hands. I do not want it to follow what I do on my computer. I do not want the intimate, private details of my life stored for a year. And I cannot trust the government to act responsibly with the information it possesses because it betrayed my trust by underhandedly obtaining data about my life. I hope my fellow Americans share these sentiments of mine.
Freedoms and liberties are lost one step at a time; if the government cannot check the unreasonable expansion of its own powers, then it is up to the people to voice their complaints and issues. That is why Snowden should be commended and not demonized; even with the possibility of facing drastic legal and social consequences, he brought to light what he considered ethically wrong. Even if he broke laws, Snowden should be applauded for adhering to a higher sense of morality—one that exists beyond the laws of this country.
Now that this surveillance problem is out in the open, the people can help influence policy surrounding it. As with many laws that pertain to the public, the U.S. citizens have a voice. They are not left in the dark while their leaders decide what to do to them. This is what makes our nation a democracy and not an oppressive regime. Unfortunately, only a few wrong moves can cause a democracy to transform into an unscrupulous government. This NSA crisis could possibly have led to much worse government intrusion; however, let us still make sure that nothing like this ever happens secretly again, not only for our sake, but for future generations’ as well.