Michael Battalio

Friday, March 13, 2015

My Politics (part 5): Government Surveillance 2

This series deals with some of my stances on political affairs and topics of the day. I am quite liberal on some issues, but more conservative with others. I self identify as an independent, but I definitely lean left. This post continues a discussion on government surveillance.

        I’ve heard the argument that we shouldn’t have anything to fear from surveillance unless you’re doing something illegal. That’s nonsense. There are things that are inherently private (sexual orientation, some political beliefs, who your friends are, what hobbies you practice etc.) that the government has no reason or imperative to learn about people. I understand that usually the government won’t care about the private minutia of everyone because the minutia of everyone is usually rather boring. The thing is, not everyone’s life is boring (that’s not to say that mine isn’t, but it could be interesting one day, maybe). And there are certainly things that are not necessarily illegal that an individual might not want released to the general public. Secrets are not necessarily bad.

        The main problem is having control of your own information. You may have every right to control some given bit of digital information, but if the government is indiscriminately absorbing all the information it can about as many people as it can, then it can “accidentally” collect a copy of a given bit of personal information that you have no control over. Since you don’t control every copy of that piece of data, you have no control of the data. In government surveillance, you lose control of your information. That is a big problem. If you no longer have absolute control over the distribution of a bit of data, you have no control over that bit of data. As soon as an illicit (or accidental) copy is made, control becomes an illusion.

        As I am no constitutional scholar my opinion cannot carry any weight, but I would also make the constitutional argument that the fourth and fifth amendments, which provide for protection against unlawful searches and seizures and against self-incrimination, respectively, protect us from warrantless surveillance. The fourth amendment demands warrants to collect evidence, warrantless surveillance flies in the face of that. And how can one plead the fifth amendment if one does not know if they are under surveillance? Randomly collecting information of everyone across the board is in direct violation of those amendments.

        While it can be applied fallaciously very easily, I also can foresee the slippery slope where if the government can monitor your phone records, then they can monitor your email, your coming and going, to the point where we have no privacy left. The question becomes then, how much do you value your privacy?

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