Insecure. Americans must recognize the privacy risks of the digital age and protest unwarranted and arbitrary government surveillance.

Insecure. Americans must recognize the privacy risks of the digital age and protest unwarranted and arbitrary government surveillance.

perspectives

Just so no one thinks I’m hysterical – this isn’t 1984. This is 2013. This is the information era, in which our lives are increasingly recorded, traceable, digitized. And in this era, no one should be surprised by the conundrum America faces in light of recent revelations.

Leaked documents published in June in The Guardian and The Washington Post reveale an ongoing National Security Agency (NSA) program entitled Prism, under which the NSA has access to the servers of major Internet corporations like Google, Microsoft, and Apple, as well as users’ search histories, emails, chats, and file attachments. The NSA was also revealed to be collecting the phone records of every Verizon customer.

In the aftermath, White House officials ran damage control, citing the surveillance as constitutional under the Patriot Act, as vital to national security and infuriatingly, as completely normal in the post-9/11 world.

Americans should be far more disturbed than they are now. The NSA is not specifically or even categorically targeting threats – it takes blanket access to every Internet user, every Verizon customer’s personal information. There is no method. There are unprecedentedly few constraints. It is true that much of this collated information goes unused – but that does not justify the policy of surveilling everyone and hoping to catch a break. White House claims of the programs’ indispensability are ill-substantiated and seem to rely on American apathy rather than evidence. And they are succeeding.

It is ironic to me that we, the nation paranoid of government overreach, are so silent now. Yes, Americans can be hypersensitive when it comes to government interference in private lives (I’m looking at you, healthcare and gun control). Yes, there is legitimate need for surveillance of potential threats. Yes, much of our personal information is already in the hands of others, either because we publicize ourselves online or because we grant it to a company in exchange for a service, like insurance or, indeed, phone service or because it is necessary for a government process, such as taxes.

But this systematically unsystematic gathering of information makes my skin crawl. It exceeds rational limitations and abuses the availability of information to justify taking possession of it. This isn’t the time to cry wolf on America turning into a dystopian police state, but it is time to urge a reevaluation of surveillance methods in the information age. It is time be the “check” in checks and balances and exert our right of petition. Send a letter to our Congressional representative, or more conveniently, sign the StopWatchingUs protest online and a sample letter will automatically be sent to Congress, demanding greater transparency, intelligence policy reform and investigation into the unnerving, unjustified and un-American actions of the NSA.

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