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The NSA An Invasion of American Privacy

Updated July 12, 2022
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The NSA  An Invasion of American Privacy essay

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Nothing you have ever done online is truly “private”. Everything that happens on the internet has either been monitored by a third party or been collected in a data center. Imagine having a conversation with someone and having a camera watching what you are doing, and a microphone recording what you are saying. Everything that you do on the internet is much like this except you can’t see the “camera” watching you. The NSA is the government agency responsible for this collection of data and every day it continues to closely monitor all activity happening on the internet. This “spying” on the American people is supposed to counter terrorism and other threatening things that the internet may contain, but very few awful things have been stopped by these tactics. Essentially, the NSA is collecting data on the American people, without doing much good with it.

According to the United States Government the NSA “is a national-level intelligence agency of the United States Department of Defense, under the authority of the Director of National Intelligence”. Essentially, the purpose of the NSA is to protect the American people from any outside or inside threats, mainly terrorism. Before the internet became a large part of American life, the NSA only worried about terroristic activity that was happening in real life, rather than virtually. They carried out investigations on people suspected of terrorism and ensured that no terroristic activity was occurring anywhere in the U.S, especially public places such as airports, and large concerts. The NSA, still of course does these things, but they have changed their focus within the last couple decades to investigating terrorism online. The NSA now has large databases to collect information from the internet and investigate it. These things are known about the NSA because of one man, Edward Snowden.

Edward Snowden was a contractor that worked for the NSA for a period of time before his career-ending decision to leak the NSA’s surveillance tactics, and just general secret information they were hiding from the American public (Marcus). Snowden leaked thousands of top secret documents from the NSA that contained all of these things that the NSA was doing in order to gain information from the American people. Snowden had to leave the country before he leaked these documents to journalists so that he wouldn’t be immediately arrested by law enforcement, because what he did is considered treason against the Espionage Act of 1917, and the punishment was life in prison. After this event, which occurred in 2013, the American public had a good idea of what the NSA had been hiding, and what the agency was doing to invade the people’s privacy. The documents that were leaked contained deals with phone companies to collect different phone calls, text message logs, and other activities done on mainly smart phones. The documents also showed that almost all supposedly “private” that was on the internet was of course easily able to be accessed and logged by the NSA. Snowden today remains in asylum in Moscow, Russia. It is unknown whether he will end up returning to America, or if he will eventually be pardoned for his controversial decision.

The NSA had been covering up what they were doing quite well until this leak happened. The agency had asked secret surveillance courts for access to all of the American people’s phone records, claiming that they needed them to prevent terrorism. The house eventually passed a bill the prohibited the NSA from collecting massive amounts of American phone data, in hopes to give people their privacy again. Even though this bill was passed, the NSA is still able to have mass surveillance of the internet in general, and possibly still has access to everyone’s phone records and different logs that they may have created. Phone companies such as Apple have been ensuring that the government doesn’t have access to their logs and different parts of the general operating system of their phones, but the NSA and even FBI continue to persist in trying to gain access to them.

Terrorism of course can happen online, but how often is it truly stopped by the NSA? There are thousands of accounts on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook etc. that have connections to Isis, or other terroristic groups that threaten the well-being of the American people. Even though these accounts get banned a lot of the time, they are still able to continue their terrorism online and recreate their online communities. The purpose of the NSA’s surveillance tactics was to stop these kinds of groups and prevent them from ever spreading their terrorism online or in real life. Even though massive amounts of data is collected on the American people for “the protection of America”, terrorists are still easily able to recruit people to their organizations and organize terroristic activities online. This can also apply to the massive collection of phone records, and no terrorists using phones were ever stopped because of this data collection. The American privacy is being violated for not even a good cause, and our protection is hardly increased by these tactics.

The patriot act was passed in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks on the world trade center. President Bush signed this act for different government agencies to have new powers in order to prevent terrorism in real life, and cyber terrorism. Essentially this act allowed for there to be more tracking and intercepting of different communications of the American people, which includes activity online, phone activity and other internet communications. Even though this act was supposed to add protection to the American people, it invades their privacy far more than it protects them. This act also allowed for the NSA to have their surveillance be in more detail, so locations of internet activity can be tracked using Ip’s and other forms of locating.

The agency is also able to gain a warrant to arrest any person who is believed to be engaged in any terroristic activity from information they have found on them through the internet or through phone communications. The ways of obtaining information to make these kinds of convictions and arrests are mainly unknown, but it is suggested that key-words are used in order to start investigating a certain individual. Even though this surveillance can be used to stop terrorists, it still vastly invades the privacy of the American people. These tactics make nearly everything that happens through telecommunications or the internet out for the government to see.

A popular argument for the NSA being allowed to collect this information is “you shouldn’t be concerned about this surveillance if you aren’t a terrorist”. Of course, if you aren’t a terrorist these surveillance tactics wouldn’t throw you in jail, but how would it feel if you were constantly being watched by someone, even if you aren’t doing anything wrong? It’s still a matter of privacy. When American people are being spied on like this, we are ridded of our individual liberty as U.S citizens. In America, we have the right to our privacy, own private land, and live our own lives without someone constantly over our shoulder. The American people should be able to use the internet or telecommunications without having their private information stored on a database by the government. All the things we do on the internet should be private if we want them to be. The internet plays a major role in almost every Americans everyday life, and if we can’t have privacy on it, then our rights are clearly being overstepped.

When the American people found out about these surveillance tactics, they felt that that their privacy was being infringed upon. A study taken in 2013, very shortly after Snowden released the top-secret documents, showed that Wikipedia had experienced nearly a 20% decline in page visits, due to the new information out about the NSA spying on Wikipedia. This study shows that the NSA caused the American people to be afraid of using the internet and its sources when before they trusted it so greatly. When these documents were first leaked by Snowden, many Americans thought that they would go to jail for researching about terrorists online, or even just simple viewing material that could be associating to terrorism.

The American people were scared out of using the internet for this purpose and tried to stray away from the internet itself. No one felt secure about their privacy at the time either. At the time of this NSA release, reportedly 53% of Americans believed that their privacy was being invaded by these surveillance tactics. Evan Schroder, a student of Mount Michael was asked about how he feels about the NSA surveillance and collection of data. “I think it’s very creepy and really pushing our privacy when we know that data is being collected on us, like for example when I search for something and a few days later, I get ads about the thing I was searching. I feel like we have the right to privacy of what we search online”. This shows that even high school students are affected by these surveillance tactics and the collection of data that happens online.

One of the most important values of America is liberty. All Americans have the right to privacy of what they do on the internet if they wish it to be private. Americans also have the right to be independent, without the NSA looking over their shoulder 24/7, ensuring that they aren’t doing anything wrong. The American government shouldn’t be involved in our personal lives, especially our lives on the internet. The government should instead follow the initial rules and values that was created for American to be run on in the first place. The NSA shouldn’t be invading our fourth amendment rights, nor should they be violating any current laws that are in place to protect our privacy and our liberty as American citizens. The NSA needs to comply to the Constitution, which all political decisions need to be based off.

All Americans have the right to life, liberty, and of course the pursuit of happiness, but as of now, the NSA invades our right to liberty. This mass collection of data, and “spying” that the NSA does goes directly against what the NSA was meant to do as an agency. The main purpose of the NSA is protecting the American people, not to invade their privacy. The NSA needs to change their tactics of countering terrorism so that us Americans can retain our liberty and our basic unalienable rights that we are promised within the Constitution. A change in the NSA’s surveillance tactics could restore the initial privacy we need on the internet and could further improve the attitude towards the NSA as an agency that protects the Americans, rather than one that spies on them and searches their information unwarranted.

The NSA essentially needs to change their tactics of preventing cyber-terrorism and other threats that the internet may hold. I believe that instead of mass collecting data from the American people, the NSA should instead use a report system much like law enforcement has. If terrorism is happening over the internet, it should be able to be reported by another individual, which then gives the NSA the right to act against the person. This tactic is used in many social media platforms, but it doesn’t do much to prevent the user from continuing to use the internet for illegal activity. This reporting system would prevent the NSA from invading the privacy of the American people using the internet every day, and it would also allow for cyber criminals and terrorists to be more effectively dealt with and punished for their actions. The NSA needs to reform their surveillance tactics, and take the rights of the people into consideration, especially the fourth amendment which specifically prevents a person from being searched or investigating without a probable cause, which the NSA violates every day. America was founded on these ideals of liberty and privacy for all, and the government now oversteps these unalienable rights.

Works Cited

  1. Boghosian, Heidi. ‘The Business of Surveillance.’ Human Rights, vol. 39, no. 3, 2013, pp. 2-5,23. ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1353300529?accountid=67992.
  2. ‘Edward Snowden, the Insufferable Whistleblower (Posted 2014-01-01 04:18:45).’ The Washington Post, Jan 01 2014, ProQuest. Web. 26 Feb. 2019 .
  3. Franz, Timothy,Lt Col. ‘The Cyber Warfare Professional: Realizations for Developing the Next Generation.’ Air & Space Power Journal 25.2 (2011): 87-99. ProQuest. Web. 26 Feb. 2019.
  4. Gellman, Barton. “NSA Broke Privacy Rules Thousands of Times per Year, Audit Finds.” The Washington Post, WP Company, 15 Aug. 2013, www.washingtonpost.com/world/national-security/nsa-broke-privacy-rules-thousands-of-times-per-year-audit-finds/2013/08/15/3310e554-05ca-11e3-a07f-49ddc7417125_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.cf64ec785505.
  5. PELOSI — Statement on News Reports of NSA Privacy Violations. Federal Information & News Dispatch, Inc, Washington, 2013. ProQuest, https://search.proquest.com/docview/1424769712?accountid=67992.
  6. Romero, Anthony. “NSA Spying on Americans Is Illegal.” American Civil Liberties Union, Aclu, 2014, www.aclu.org/other/nsa-spying-americans-illegal.
  7. Savage, Charlie. “Surveillance and Privacy Debate Reaches Pivotal Moment in Congress.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 10 Jan. 2018, www.nytimes.com/2018/01/10/us/politics/nsa-surveillance-privacy-section-702-amendment.html.
  8. Stephen J Hedges and,Mark Silva. ‘Bush: No Laws were Broken ; Millions of Phone Records Reportedly Sold to NSA.’ Chicago Tribune, May 12 2006, p. 1. ProQuest. Web. 26 Feb. 2019 .
  9. Swiniarski, James, and Evan Schroder. “How Does the Collection of Data and the NSA Surveillance Tactics Affect You?” 18 Feb. 2019.
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