NSA Spying: Think Twice Before Dismissing Fourth Amendment Privacy

I want to return to the idea of selective concern for our constitutional rights that I hit on in an earlier post. And I’m going to keep writing about the NSA spying on Americans even if most have already dismissed the story because they assumed it was going on all along.

Take a look at gun violence, with tens of thousands of Americans killed each year. We are talking about a weapon that also happens to be a constitutionally protected material possession, at least according to the Supreme Court. The number of Americans killed by guns in recent years hovers around 30,000.

Now take a look at terrorism. There are entire years that go by without one American death due to terrorism. But while the Second Amendment is judged sacrosanct, a testament for a free society, other amendments are not lauded with such enthusiasm and dogmatic certainty. Illegal search and seizure? Well, if it will protect me from the evil terrorists then I’m all for tearing down constitutional amendments, as long as it’s not the one about guns.

Surveillance - photo by lisainglasses

For terrorism, there’s no change we could make in our daily lives that would offer us greater protection, so we offload that responsibility to government. For gun crime, while there are random acts of gun violence, most deaths by gun are not random. So while scary, because it’s usually not random, most people believe gun violence will not visit their lives. Most people believe gun violence is something that happens to someone else. Most people believe gun violence is a problem tucked away in various urban locations. And because we have the right to own a gun, protected by the Second Amendment, there’s nothing we can do about it anyway. But why don’t we say that about the Fourth Amendment? Why is it on the chopping block? So we can combat terrorism? Really? — You are more likely to be struck by lightning or drown in your bathtub than die in a terrorist attack. And you are definitely more likely to be killed by a constitutionally protected gun owner than by a terrorist with a bomb.

Some argue that we already give up our privacy in a digitally connected world, but I’m left unfulfilled with this line of thinking. There are liberals and Democrats who argue NSA surveillance of our phone records and internet traffic is the price we pay in a modern and technology driven society. So, with no probable cause, it’s fine for the state to spy on citizens? I’m not saying I like private businesses having access to my personal info, but private businesses don’t have the power that the state does. Their primary concern is making money and earning customer loyalty. They can certainly use personal information for bad purposes, but it’s our choice to give up that information. I can choose which companies I’m willing to share my personal information with.

But I don’t remember my government asking for my permission. I don’t care if I’m not being targeted, this information is archived, ready to be accessed at a later date, for a purpose yet determined. How can anybody say they will never be the target of a government inquiry? It doesn’t matter if you are a law-bidding citizen. What if someone in a position of power decides they just don’t like you? What web might they try to spin with the information they have? Maybe you didn’t do anything illegal, yet, but maybe they can massage the data to make it look like you did. Do I think there is a high probability of this? Maybe not. But how do you know a future administration will be trustworthy? How do you know the current administration is?

We might want to think twice before we so easily dismiss our privacy and the Fourth Amendment.

photo by lisainglasses

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