I’m positive that the majority of Americans know who Edward Snowden is: a computer extraordinaire, former employee of the Central Intelligence Agency and former contractor for the United States government. However, perhaps the most notable and defining moment of Snowden’s life was his leaking of classified National Security Agency information detailing global and domestic surveillance programs used by the United States, Australia, the United Kingdom, and Canada. Due to the sensitivity of the information he was going to be releasing to the public, Snowden was forced to flee from the United States to Hong Kong, and then later to Moscow. Following the release of numerous government documents detailing clandestine spying programs, controversy encapsulated the American populace. Some trumpeted Snowden as a hero who revealed unconstitutional government proceedings that resembled Oceania’s Big Brother government in George Orwell’s 1984. Some Americans labeled Snowden as a traitor who had betrayed his country and placed the United States in an incredible amount of danger. Many conservatives align themselves with the latter statement, but I believe that they have been misled, and that they should instead accept Snowden as a national hero.
It is first imperative to understand the information that can be deduced from the released documents. The first major finding dealt with the NSA’s PRISM program. The PRISM program is essentially a “system the NSA uses to gain access to the private communications of users of nine popular Internet services.” Some companies that PRISM allows the government to access include Google, Microsoft, Yahoo, and Facebook. These companies, when questioned about unobstructed government access to their respective servers, vehemently denied that the government could systematically and immediately retrieve any desired information. Instead, spokespeople stated that the government would have to provide FISA warrants if they wanted information on a specific person. However, “FISA orders are not search warrants under the Fourth Amendment, and the FISA Amendments Act doesn’t require the government to show probable cause to believe that the target of surveillance has committed a crime.” Furthermore, supporters of the PRISM program claim that FISA only allows for the interception of information originating from foreigners. This claim is again refuted, as “the government [uses] an obscure provision of the Patriot Act to obtain records.”
In addition to the invasive PRISM program, Snowden’s leak also revealed close collaboration between the NSA and the Government Communications Headquarters, a British spy agency. The GCHQ taps fiber optic cables around the world to intercept information flowing over the internet. This allows the agencies to collect massive swaths of internet data, regardless of whether it is malicious and dangerous or not. Some of the companies collaborating with the NSA and GCHQ are Verizon Business, British Telecommunications, and Vodafone Cable.
Most surprisingly, however, was the discovery of a program called XKeyscore. This “top-secret program essentially makes available everything you’ve ever done on the Internet – browsing history, searches, content of your emails, online chats, even your metadata-all at the tap of a keyboard.” XKeyscore is quite possibly the widest reaching NSA surveillance program and “gives analysts the ability to search through the entire database of your information without any prior authorization — no warrant, no court clearance, no signature on a dotted line. An analyst must simply complete a simple onscreen form, and seconds later, your online history is no longer private.”
The discovery of the PRISM program, the collaboration of international spy agencies, and the XKeyscore program provide serious implications. The Fourth Amendment protects American citizens from unreasonable searches and seizures. Although the Supreme Court has yet to rule on the constitutionality of major government surveillance programs, past precedent allows a degree of room for inference. In United States v. Jones, “the Court affirmed the judgment of the lower court, and held that the installation of a GPS tracking device on Jones’ vehicle, without a warrant, constituted an unlawful search under the Fourth Amendment.” Many of the government surveillance programs that allow for the mass collection of metadata circumvent the need for a warrant, and most American citizens are simply incoherent to the pervasiveness of the government.
Conservatives tend to be faithful to our Constitution, and the Fourth Amendment reads very clearly. Conservatives also believe in small government, but allowing the government to invade personal information, calls, emails, and text messages without a warrant is utterly appalling and contradictory to their small government stance. Conservatives embody the spirit of freedom and liberty. However, it seems that many conservatives have favored another course of action in consciously deciding to trade in some of their liberty for security. Ben Franklin defiantly stated that, “those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety”. Liberty and freedom are two principles that place an impenetrable boundary between the populace and the government, and allow the American people a sense of security and peace of mind. This boundary is being circumvented and quite frankly disrespected by our government, which seems to be abusing its power, authority, and resources. It’s one thing to spy on an individual or group who pose a serious threat to our country and its people, but it’s a completely different proposition to spy on law-abiding citizens who are simply going about their lives. Until our government realizes that it has overstepped its constitutional guidelines, government surveillance will continue on its rampant course, unabated until those that value liberty and freedom, like Edward Snowden, band together to stand up to our Big Brother.