Fighting for privacy in the information age
On July 4 of this year, I exercised my First Amendment right to peaceably assemble as a part of the “Restore the Fourth” movement. I gathered with about 200 others in Rochester, N.Y., along with about 10,000 people nationwide, to demand that my Fourth Amendment rights be protected.
“What do we want?”
“Why do we want it?”
“None of your business!”
We were a strange mix of Democrats, Republicans, third parties, liberals, conservatives, hippies and even Anonymous hacktivists. Alex White, Rochester’s Green Party mayoral candidate, came out to speak to us. On that day, however, we were all united under a common interest: to protect our privacy.
Privacy means that I can feel safe in my home. If I am a law-abiding citizen, I can have control over who knows what about me. It means that when I send a text or an email, or when I make a phone call, the only one who reads my message or hears my voice is the person I originally intended to hear or see it.
We needed to stand up for our privacy on July 4 because earlier on June 6, The Guardian and The Washington Post published a series of articles exposing the National Security Agency’s surveillance of both American citizens and foreign countries. Edward Snowden, an American computer specialist and former CIA and NSA employee, provided the information in the form of a cache containing between 15,000 and 20,000 documents. He proved that the NSA has collected trillions of phone calls and emails, including those from average, unsuspicious American citizens.
The news of the extent of NSA’s spying not only shocked Americans, but also angered foreign leaders. Snowden was forced to leave the country and some have hailed him as a hero, some as a traitor.
As an aspiring journalist, Snowden’s story bothered me from the moment I found out about it. The media holds an ethical responsibility to uncover the truth and to disseminate it to the public in a way that is accessible and understandable. Journalism is considered to be the Fourth Estate because it is the only institution that can effectively check the government and make the playing field fair for citizens.
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution states: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
There is debate about whether electronic communications can be protected under this amendment. Just because our methods of communications are changing doesn’t mean that our right to privacy should. Snowden saw that this right was being violated and in his words, he wanted “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” I think it makes him a defender of the Constitution, which is heroic and patriotic.
I understand the need to increase our national security in light of the events of 9/11. However, no citizen should be subjected to unjustified search and seizure of private information; a probable cause needs to be established and a warrant needs to be obtained before an invasion of privacy can be carried out.
We need journalists and brave whistleblowers like Snowden to keep the government honest and to ensure that its core value is the citizen, not money or power. Think about Snowden the next time you send a text or an email; somewhere, a complete stranger has the ability to follow your every electronic movement.
An American is more likely to die from a lightning strike than a terrorist attack, and while terrorism is a serious thing, the potential threat of it is not enough justification for the United States government to start blatantly ignoring the Constitution. This is the reason why I took to the streets on July 4; it’s why I spent half of my day sweating under the summer heat, made my feet sore from marching, and made my voice hoarse from shouting, demanding attention.
As a citizen, I will not give up my essential liberties, and as a journalist, I will not be silenced. And I think that it is clear, given the national participation and the diverse mix of people who marched with me that day: I am not alone.
Faith Meckley is a freshman journalism major whose emails are too awesome for the public to handle. Email her at fmeckle1[at]ithaca.edu.