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National Security - Privacy Research Paper

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Privacy is one of the most important aspects of social and individual life.  The concept of privacy has been around since ancient times, but privacy is has become a growing issue of importance with its current meaning in the process of technological and social modernization.  The rapid improvements in information and communication technologies and obligations of living communal life make the invasion of privacy very easy.  In recent years, people, institutions, and organizations have started to handle their work mostly electronically.  This has allowed for more information than ever before to be accessed.  The government has used some authority to access the excess amount of information in the claim of protecting our country.  And it is necessary for governments to spy on their own people for security purposes.  However, there needs to be a balance between national security and privacy.  This balance of power is necessary for any country that wants to maintain stability.  Otherwise, it will most likely take a similar stance to totalitarian privacy rules.

Security is extremely crucial for the advancement and stability of the United States of America.  Today, terrorism poses a legitimate threat to Western countries, as illustrated by the events of 9/11, threats from extremist groups such as ISIS, and attempted plots on Western countries (Bergen, Sterman, Schneider, and Cahall, 2014).  The attacks on 9/11 and the conflicts created by extremist groups in the Middle East demonstrate these terrorist organizations’ significant capacities for destruction.  To prevent potential attacks on countries, governments must use preemptive measures to identify and neutralize possible strikes before they occur.  Without monitoring highly suspected persons’ communications and activities, government security programs are less able to assess the severity of threats, as their only intelligence sources would be intermittent tips.  U.S. intelligence claims to have already stopped dozens of attacks through preemptive investigation and response (Bergen, Sterman, Schneider, and Cahall, 2014).  

Government surveillance can be useful in many domains other than terrorism.  Cases involving unwarranted police violence, assault, theft, and murder can be aided through CCTV cameras.  In the State of Florida vs. George Zimmerman case, eyewitness accounts of the encounter between Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin all differed.  Therefore, prosecutors found it difficult to establish a clear picture of what happened that night.  The presence of CCTV cameras or other visual surveillance equipment could have more clearly established the facts and better enabled the successful prosecution of George Zimmerman, or validated his innocence as ruled by the court (Bilton, 2013).  Too often do the facts surrounding injustices come down to the words of those with unreliable knowledge, or reason to lie, and too often we fail to bring justice, or know if justice has been brought, to those actually guilty or innocent.

Although security is necessary for a country, so is privacy.  However, our privacy has been compromised.  As a result of the modernization and socialization, we have to live together, we have to see our faces more often than before and communicate with each other, in other words we live communal life and communal life has some obligations that we need to concur with it.  Streets are full of buildings, which are so close to each other and they are building more and more. “Although modernization brought many benefits, it was not without its problems, most notably that neighborhood and housing designs gave unlimited access of space, creating problems with respect to privacy and the diminishing of communal socialization” (Saleh 1997).  Houses become apartments skyscrapers, which are built side by side. People can easily see what their neighbors do, just looking from their windows. Neighborhood and housing designs force us to confine ourselves to less privacy and less individualized life style.

  As a result of the technological modernization, we are surrounded by technological tools and, in such an environment, people cannot be sure whether or not they are not wiretapped, if their e-mails are being read, or if the government has their personal information.  Social modernization has made people live in communal life and had less individualized life style. Both social and technological modernization makes it harder to control the boundaries of private life for people.

Wiretapping isn’t only problem, we confine ourselves to less privacy at shopping stores, workstations and airports because of national security.  In airports, for example, people face many violations of privacy for national security.  If someone wants to get onto a plane, they have to be checked multiple times, and if security guards become suspicious, their luggage can be checked without permission, under the premise of national security.  It is a controversial topic that whether security guards have a right to do that or not, but it is the fact that it limits our privacy and it form our boundaries of our privacy.

This abuse of surveillance has angered many Americans.  Following the leak of NSA activity in 2013, 6 in 10 Americans said  they disapproved of the federal government’s collecting phone records of ordinary Americans in order to reduce terrorism (Kopicki 2013).  Even President Obama has admitted to the U.S.’s abuse of surveillance and privacy in the name of national security.  He stated that in the 1960s, civil rights leaders and critics of the Vietnam War were spied on by the government (Obama 2014).  This use of surveillance has been used not only recently, but for decades.

The government may say that it needs to avoid certain rights in order to crack down on terrorist threats, but there are ways to do so while protecting American citizens’ right to privacy and remaining within the limits of the Constitution.  A perfect example of this is the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA)’s pre-9/11 surveillance project, ThinThread.  The NSA was falling behind, technologically speaking, as America headed into the Internet age.  It was inundated with more data than it could possibly comprehend with its information processing methods at the time.  ThinThread, developed by NSA crypto-mathematician Bill Binney while working with the agency’s Signals Intelligence Automation Research Center (SARC), was going to be the solution (Mayer 2011). Journalist Jane Mayer explains in an article for the New Yorker, that what made ThinThread ingenious is that, “Instead of vacuuming up information around the world and then sending it all back to headquarters for analysis, ThinThread processed information as it was collected—discarding useless information on the spot and avoiding the overload problem that plagued centralized systems” (Mayer 2011).  ThinThread was so thorough and good at collecting information that it picked up intelligence on American citizens without the NSA intending it to.  As a fix, Binney built in a set of privacy controls.  With these controls in place, data on American citizens would remain encrypted unless ThinThread flagged it as a potential threat.  In this case, it would remain encrypted until NSA officials were able to obtain a proper warrant to access it.  The NSA could scour the world for threats and pinpoint specific bits of potentially significant data, all while maintaining a reasonably small budget for the project, remaining within the confines of the law and protecting the privacy of American citizens (Mayer 2011).



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