Whose Right is it Anyway?

Edward Snowden’s leak regarding NSA data collection practices has stirred up quite a bit of discussion related to internet privacy.  While some believe the government has no right to look at the contents of an individual’s e-mails or Facebook account, others believe a little bit of intrusion might be ok, so long as it helps keep us all safe.  Throughout all the conversations about the NSA and the PRISM program, what’s been missing is a clear discussion of what our privacy rights are and how we can protect them.

Unfortunately, the news for Americans probably won’t be very pleasant.  The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act passed in 1978 coupled with the Supreme Court’s holding in Smith v. Maryland have set a precedent for allowing government intrusion into arenas most Americans would think are protected by the 4th Amendment.  The Court’s decision in Smith allowed the police to install a pen register on a phone to track the numbers that the person called.  The Court said that there was no reasonable expectation of privacy in the numbers dialed even though the contents of the calls themselves may be protected.

Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Kelsey D. Atherton writing for Foreign Policy believe FISA and the holding in Smith mean that the government has the right to at the very least collect data on who you’re e-mailing and who is e-mailing you.  Taking their conclusion a step further, they write, “All Internet users are aware that their online activities are conveyed to a third party, which suggests there is no reasonable expectation of privacy, and no Fourth Amendment protection.”  This could mean that one has no right to privacy in his/her Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc.

The BBC reported last week that China employs over two million people just to monitor Chinese internet users’ web activities.  Posts that are considered anti-government are often deleted.  It’s probably also safe to assume that people who routinely make anti-government posts in China are subject to stricter censure than just having their blogs deleted.

While we have yet to hear about the NSA deleting peoples’ posts or punishing them for what they post, it appears we may be on a slippery slope.  Blogger Anh-Minh Do explained that people in Asian countries are generally used to living in a society where everything they do online is monitored.  That has not been the perception here in America, but it seems like we’re moving in that direction.  If we think internet privacy is a right then we need to start talking to our legislators about working to protect that right.  It may be an uphill battle at this point, but if we don’t start climbing soon than that mountain will only get bigger.


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