Column: The government has access to more than people realize
Published: Thursday, January 23, 2014
Updated: Monday, January 27, 2014 15:01
Last Friday, President Obama delivered a speech outlining a series of reforms to the federal government’s phone and Internet surveillance program.
While he acknowledged that federal surveillance programs can potentially undermine civil liberties, he stood firmly by the National Security Agency’s side: “We cannot unilaterally disarm our intelligence agencies.”
If this comes as a surprise to you, you are not alone.
According to a recent poll by the Pew Research Center and USA Today, about half of the public know nothing about Obama’s speech or his proposed reforms.
Of those individuals who do know about Obama’s speech, the overwhelming majority seems unimpressed—the consensus seems to be that whatever was said will do nothing to improve our privacy.
Generally, I try to look at surveys with a healthy dose of skepticism.
However, I do see a germ of truth contained in these polls. While we as individuals may not be thrilled over what information the federal government has access to, there seems to be an air of resignation about the whole affair.
As unsettling it may seem in an Orwellian sense, I don’t think many of us have an immediate sense of fear over the government having access to so much information. For the most part, I think we have accepted this as a fact: we want our Internet, but we also recognize that we need the government to have access to our records in the event of a national threat—never mind the likelihood of such an event or the need for such records .
Growing up in an era where anything is accessible to those of us who have an Internet connection , it fosters the idea that we ourselves should be accessible to others. Sure, we may not particularly care for the government’s power over us in theory, but its most likely that the NSA program has not immediately affected us. As long as what we’re doing on the Internet isn’t criminal, why should it matter if the government has access to our activity?
It seems almost redundant to suggest that the concept of privacy has changed radically from one generation to the next, but it’s always something worth noting. The things that our parents and grandparents would have thought too taboo to mention at the dinner table are now the subjects of public discourse.
Even if the things we publish on the Internet are of a personal nature, rarely do we feel threatened by exposing ourselves to what can potentially be the rest of the world.
Maybe the NSA doesn’t bother the general public because it already accepts that the ideas and images that are shared on the Internet don’t really belong to any one individual but are instead part of something global.
We are so readily accessible to friends, coworkers, employers, marketing companies and total strangers. Whether or not we consent to this ability is becoming increasingly arbitrary.
This brings me to my question: in the age of the Internet, how accessible do we mind becoming? Aren’t those things we publish on the Internet—whether they are cat photos or late-night political rants—essentially extensions of ourselves?
Often, it’s easy to dichotomize issues like this into an argument of liberty over security. Certainly, I think even those of us with civic libertarian sympathies—myself included— have to grant that the argument of security over liberty has its appeal.
We all desire safety; we also have to grant that a nation populated by individuals with ample access to the Internet means that our nation is essentially borderless, at least in the realm of ideas. My point here is not to perpetuate a sense of paranoia about the Internet or to indulge in clichés about George Orwell and “1984”.
I am asking that we all reflect inwardly on how the Internet has molded our sense of self-determination.
External borders are not the only ones erased by technology. The same happens with our internal borders—who we are as individuals becomes fragmented and dispersed over the Internet.
What does this mean for our sense of autonomy? If the polls mentioned earlier are any indication, then it means that not only do we accept this, we very likely just don’t care.
By gaining a world of information, we forfeit our own accessibility with apparent resignation about to who or what it is exactly that we are accessible to. And so it goes. Type. Click. Scroll.
Karla Rosas is a political science junior; she can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org