Point Taken!

Is the wide ranging NSA surveillance program a violation of our privacy? Or is it a necessary step to protect our country? Faculty members share their opinions with Curry Magazine.

National Insecurity...The Erosion of Right to Privacy

Kirk HazlettKirk Hazlett
Associate Professor

The recently revealed escapades of the cloaked-in-mystery National Security Agency's prying into citizens' telephone records and other documents should raise serious concerns about the gradual erosion of those rights and privileges that we, the citizens of the United States, have come to know, cherish, and take for granted.

The interesting aspect to me, as a professional communicator, is the accompanying propagandizing of NSA's shenanigans. Where we (they) cheerfully point to other countries delving into citizens' private affairs as cold-hearted communistic "spying," the going term for NSA's activities is "surveillance," a much softer, gentler descriptor.

More important, though, is what appears to be the steadily increasing intrusion into what should be our private affairs with an implied "trust me; it's for your own good" explanation (alibi) on the part of the intruders.

The whole developing situation...action of NSA, revelation in the media, apparent acceptance by the American public...brings to mind the "boiling frog theory." It's a theory in which, supposedly, a frog placed in boiling water will immediately jump out whereas one placed in cool water that is gradually heated to the boiling point will remain and, not surprisingly (except, perhaps, to him!), find himself cooked.

Whether or not this example is accurate is unimportant...the underlying moral of the story is this: "People should make
themselves aware of and take action in response to gradual change in order to avoid eventual undesirable consequences."
The bigger question, though, is "should we, American citizens, have to accept the circumstances and then be continually looking over our shoulders to see if we're being ‘surveilled'?"

It's one thing for a known suspicious character to be watched surreptitiously by law enforcement officials. It's an entirely different situation when large numbers of private citizens are having their private affairs monitored for no other reason than blanket claims of "in the interest of national security."

If memory serves, the presumption is that one is "innocent until found guilty in a court of law." The National Security Agency is not a "court" nor does it have judiciary powers. As such, it is not authorized to pry into law-abiding citizens' private lives "just because."

We, as American citizens, have a right to expect that the sanctity of our personal lives will not be violated by others who choose to apply their own overly zealous interpretation of their authority to their activities. The NSA spying on its country's own citizens is an affront to all of us who appreciate the benefits of living in a democracy.

Let's hope that our elected leaders, too, will come to their senses and hold this agency and others (did someone whisper "IRS"?) to their legally defined duties and responsibilities.

Safety vs. Freedom...and the NSA's PRISM Program

Mike Sampson
Senior Lecturer
Criminal Justice and Sociology
(not pictured)

Rebecca PaynichDr. Rebecca Paynich
Criminal Justice and Sociology

In the title of this piece, we intentionally chose to not include the term "privacy." The Constitution of the United States never explicitly uses this term. Both "safety" and "freedom" are, however, found in this amazing document.

We (again an intentional term as government and law enforcement come from us-they are our own creation) must balance our freedom with very real safety needs. 9/11 and other more recent events have opened our eyes to the real threat of terrorism in the United States. As technology has rapidly evolved, so too, must our definition of privacy. Fifty years ago, prior to texting, digital storage the size of a fingernail, and the internet (including the dark web), the methods of "spying" were much more invasive. Today, surveillance can be completed far away without any physical connection to any particular space (as can conspiring to blow up a bomb to kill and injure many innocent victims). Again, we are intentional with our words here. Spying is defined in Merriam-Webster (first entry) as "to watch secretly usually for hostile purposes." Surveillance on the other hand, is defined (by the same source) as a "close watch kept over someone or something (as by a detective)." The first example given is that of government surveillance of suspected terrorists. Criminals have evolved. Conspiring to commit crimes (especially those of violence) can be perpetrated without ever coming in physical contact with (or even knowing) coconspirators; our methods of detecting and intercepting these crimes must change. Organized street gangs, for example, no longer want new members to sport fancy tattoos or flashy colors to communicate their connections. Instead, third and fourth generation gang members are expected to stay clean, sober, and do well in school, and eventually attend college, become professionals or even join military and law enforcement organizations in efforts to further the gang on the "inside." As a reminder, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, was thought to be just a typical college student-many of his closest friends and family members had no idea what he was planning.

We need to trust some governmental agency, at some point in time to fulfill its part of the social contract. We created our government and law enforcement organizations for this very reason. And regardless of political affiliation, we all recognize the importance of safety. Both of the recent administrations (Bush and Obama) have thoroughly and with bi-partisan ferreting and oversight signed the Patriot Act which allows for numerous surveillance techniques and investigative capabilities. There is no 100% foolproof method, program or oversight that will protect all of our freedoms (nor is there a fool proof way to prevent all acts of violence). However, there must be a balance between our individual freedom and our ability to protect our citizens against threats, both foreign and from within.

During the course of any investigation, law enforcement runs checks on license plates, addresses, phone numbers, businesses and government agencies, etc. and can access a slew of information without tapping a phone. With the explosion of social media and other public information sources, much of this information can be discovered with a quick internet search
and often times damning information is posted by the suspects themselves! (And most of this requires no law enforcement
powers.) In fact, private organizations have been collecting (and selling) sensitive (seemingly private) information for decades.

Perhaps the more important issue at hand is not whether or not our government can or should collect this information but how it should be utilized once collected.

What do you have to say? Join the discussion at: #CurryMagNSA


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