Like many Americans, in the wake of learning about the Big Brother-like NSA surveillance programs, I've begun to question just how free we really are in America. Just how many of our rights are we willing to sacrifice in the name of national security?
A study done by Privacy International back in 2007 ranked the United States among the worst offenders of privacy rights. In fact, the study concludes the U.S. “is the worst ranking county in the democratic world,” playing second fiddle only to countries like China and Russia. China and Russia don’t exactly bring to mind glowing pictures of a surveillance-free life. Something more along the lines of Yakov Smirnoff's “In Soviet Russia...” joke comes to mind. How can our nation call itself the “Land of the Free” if the privacy of our citizens is given the same level of disregard as in Russia and China? If the state of our privacy rights was this bad in 2007, I shudder to think how the U.S. would rank if another study were done today.
What so many people forget is that our privacy, while it is a natural, God-given right to begin with, is protected under the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution:
“The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
In school we learned the main purpose of the Fourth Amendment was the protection of the rights of criminals against warrantless searches and arrests. But the reality is that the Founding Fathers intended the Fourth Amendment to protect against the very kind of surveillance and government overreach found in these NSA programs. The NSA has neither the probable cause nor the warrant to watch every American for “national security” reasons. For those of you who may say, “I have nothing to hide, let them look,” imagine your parents had installed a cell-phone tracking device (like this) on your phone. They now have the ability to see who you call, when you call, and where you are when you call for every single phone call you make. Creepy, isn’t it? The NSA already has this ability for every Verizon customer (although we’d be naïve to think that the other major carriers haven’t been asked to make a similar deal).
One of the more disturbing conclusions we can make from the NSA scandal is that the U.S. government has decided to treat every United States citizen as a suspect in the War on Terror. America is the leader of the free world. We have a duty to ourselves and to the world to keep that beacon of freedom alive. If we continue to allow our government to attack our civil liberties in such an egregious manner, the terrorists have won. They have won without firing a single shot.