The day we fight back: Taking a stand for privacy | Guest op

By Matt Sencenbaugh
For the Auburn Reporter

Edward Snowden's revelations this past year have been astonishing.

The first story broken by the Guardian, "NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily," includes a FISC (Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) document forcing Verizon to hand over customer telephone data on an ongoing, daily basis. The data handed over to the FBI is a bulk dump of information on domestic and international phone calls, regardless of whether the citizen is suspected of any wrongdoing. Additionally, the document includes a provision that prohibits Verizon from disclosing the existence of the court order.

The day after the secret court order was published, the Guardian dropped another bombshell in the form of a story about a secret NSA program: "NSA Prism program taps in to user data of Apple, Google and others." PRISM is a top-secret massive surveillance program that gives the NSA direct access to major tech companies like Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook and Yahoo. "Direct access" means that the NSA now has technology to snag data such as emails, chats and search history, from companies without a warrant or any significant checks and balances. NSA employees have even used PRISM to spy on ex-lovers.

One thing is now abundantly clear: the American people's privacy is being invaded by its own government. Nearly a year after these revelations surfaced, we still know very little about what's happening or the controls in place to prevent abuses of power. So far the most "transparency" we have gotten is the director of National Intelligence lying to Congress about the existence of mass surveillance programs. James Clapper, director of National Intelligence, remains in power today.

Some readers may wonder why they should care, especially if they have nothing to hide. Googling for "nothing to hide surveillance state" will turn up thousands of news articles on why you should care; however, I would like to emphasize one significant reason.

The malleability of our system of government depends on privacy to allow its constituents the freedom to engage with laws and march our society forward.

During the civil rights movement for example, thousands of laws were broken, and Jim Crow laws represented an unjust set of laws when viewed through the lens of modern society. If the NSA data collection programs existed in those days, it's a tiny stretch to say law enforcement would have used the power to crack down on American citizens for crimes that had yet to be committed, or at the very least could have seriously disrupted the organization of the movement itself.

A modern-day example exists in the gay rights movement sweeping the nation. Do you believe that existing sodomy laws were upheld as states have journeyed towards legalizing gay marriage?

As showcased by thedaywefightback.org, one of the most powerful things you can do right now is to call your local representative. In particular, we as a people need to urge our representatives to pass the USA Freedom Act (aims to curtail NSA surveillance abuses) and to reject the FISA Improvements Act (aims to legalize bulk phone record collection).

The United States has always been in the hands of the people. It's time to take action and fight against the NSA's breach of our right to privacy.

Matt Sencenbaugh, an Auburn High School and Stanford University graduate, is a freelance software developer at sencedev.com. He is spending a year traveling the world.

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