National Security vs. Individual Liberties
A Long Standing Debate has Taken a New Turn in the Modern Digital Era
The Edward Snowden Leaks
Liberty and National Security
The debate between national security and individual liberties, especially privacy, has reached new proportions as technology has increased the ability for the state to create mass surveillance programs. The events that occurred on September 11th, 2001, definitely changed the political and social landscape within the United States. This also heightened the debate between security and privacy. Many politicians made the case that they needed new and more technologically advanced protection systems to help combat the threat of terrorism.
Politicians were quick to use the aftershock of the terrorism events to pass new legislation that significantly expanded the ability of organizations such as the CIA and NSA to create new tools to monitor both domestic and foreign individuals. The extent of the programs that were enacted were not fully realized by the American public until recent leaks of classified information has provided some insights into some of the programs that were running in secret beyond the knowledge of the public. This analysis will look at some of the recent revelations and argue that the U.S. government has definitely overstepped its bounds in regards to maintaining the civil liberties of its citizens.
The claims and arguments in defense of violating certain civil liberties were made in order try to prevent future acts of terrorism on the United States and around the globe. Many of the advanced nations around the globe implemented similar measures; although most not as comprehensive at what is found in the U.S. However, intelligence agency has intertwined many of their services to from a global web of surveillance. There is now a large intentional task force that is tasked to guard against the terrorist threat. Yet one of the problems in this quest is that there is no one single definition of terrorism. In fact, many of the acts that the U.S. has committed in places like Iraq and Afghanistan can be considered terrorism by most definitions. Therefore, the concept of terrorism is selective at best.
WikiLeaks was the first organization to begin to unveil what has happening behind the scenes of the intelligence agencies. In fact, there was a documentary made called “Collateral Murder” which clearly portrays a U.S. gunship gunning down some reporters that work for Reuters (Collateral Murder). Furthermore, the continued publishing of thousands secret documents from war files and diplomatic cables has not been proven to have jeopardized the lives of many Americans; as some have claimed. Although it has been costly in regard to the U.S. diplomatic standing with many foreign agencies, there has not been one death that can be attributed to this level of transparency. Although the leaks have been costly to the American people both in terms of their strategic interests as well as their diplomatic relations around the world, this is only a result of transparency. WikiLeaks served as an embarrassment to the American government to many organizations around the world.
There was one rural farmer however, in Tunisia who was so upset with the corruption of the ruling class after reading a WikiLeaks cable that he decided to light himself on fire in front of the government building. The purported catalyst of these riots was the self-immolation of a fruit seller who killed himself after facing the harsh reality of the unemployment and desperation; In an interview on DemocracyNow! Fares Mabrouk, a Tunisian activist, spoke about how the quick solidarity with Tunisians that emerged did not relate to any political party or union (Anonymous). The entire Arab spring was not organized from top down, but people rose up, unifying in support of human dignity. The following events known as the Arab Spring brought several dictatorships to their knees and gave people hope for the first time in decades. It was transparency that led a nation to demand more from their government.
Well you may say that those were third world countries that were ruled by dictators and isn’t nearly the same set of circumstances that are present in our democracy. Our country is fighting terrorism. Furthermore the war on terrorism requires a certain amount of secrecy so that the military can achieve its objectives. Publishing classified information would allow the terrorists to gain the upper hand.
Relating the Arab Spring to the events in the U.S. is definitely a bit of a stretch. However, the war on terror is vastly overblown and driven by irrational fear in the domestic land. These fears can be considered irrational because more people die from other causes than from terrorist attacks every year; by staggering amounts. People die because they can’t afford health care which is a prime example. Another example could be the death tolls that result from obesity related diseases in the U.S. obesity related deaths trump terrorism by numbers in the millions. Therefore, it would be more logical to declare war on McDonalds and Burger King than a bunch of third world vigilantes that live in caves. Furthermore, it the pursuit of defending the world against the vague concept of terrorism, the U.S. has clearly engaged in what is considered by most to be nothing less than war crimes; which has all been released clearly by the organization WikiLeaks.
The Edward Snowden Leaks
Beyond WikiLeaks, the young individual named Edward Snowden added a whole new level of transparency into what the government was willing to do in the name of national security. dward Snowden worked for the National Security Agency through subcontractor Booz Allen in the NSA’s Oahu office. After only three months, Snowden began collecting top-secret documents regarding NSA domestic surveillance practices, which he found disturbing. After Snowden fled to Hong Kong, China, newspapers began printing the documents that he had leaked to them, many of them detailing invasive spying practices against American citizens (Bio). Snowden was quoted as stating that his motivation stemmed from the following statement:
“I don’t want to live in a society that does these sort of things … I do not want to live in a world where everything I do and say is recorded. That is not something I am willing to support or live under.”
Snowden has definitely been a controversial figure since he releases the information about the NSA spying on regular Americans. However, many notable figures have come out in defense of Snowden such as former President Jimmy Carter who was concerned that his own personal emails were being monitored by the intelligence agencies. “I think it’s wrong,” he said of the NSA program. “I think it’s an intrusion on one of the basic human rights of Americans, is to have some degree of privacy if we don’t want other people to read what we communicate. (Page)” Carter continued “But I think it’s good for Americans to know the kinds of things that have been revealed by him and others — and that is that since 9/11 we’ve gone too far in intrusion on the privacy that Americans ought to enjoy as a right of citizenship. (Page)”
Liberty and National Security
The government originally made a set of freedoms guaranteed in the Constitution that protected individual liberties. Many lives were lost in the pursuit of devising a system in which the ordinary citizen was protect by a comprehensive set of rights that made them, for all intents and purposes, equal under the law. Although these rights were not originally distributed equally, the civil rights movement and women’s suffrage movements, made equality more accessible for the vast number of Americans. Many civil struggles have continually place the U.S. On a trajectory in which more and more people would enjoy civil liberties. And as a collective result of all the individual efforts, it is safe to say that the U.S. society on whole has become more civil throughout the years.
However, despite all the claims of freedom that is funneled to the American public, there are still a lot of improvements that must be made to create a more perfect union. After the end of WW2, American arose as the dominant superpower in the world. President Eisenhower referred countries new position as one that included a “military industrial complex” which refers to the network of defense contractors and military capabilities that the U.S. public supports through their tax funding (Eisenhower). Most Americans are not aware of the fact that they U.S. currently spends as much on its military than the rest of the world combined or very near that amount.
Furthermore, the United States has virtually no enemies that would threaten to attack the country domestically other than a loose network of terrorist cells that are less of a threat than obesity and heart disease. Mexico and Canada, our only neighbors, are both U.S. allies. Yet, defending the nation from terrorism since 9/11 has been one of the greatest priorities that the military industrial complex has focused on and given them an enemy that can never be defeated since it cannot really be defined. Yet the military industrial complex has found a new avenue of growth in a war that can virtually never be won. This allows major corporations to continue to sell military goods to fight the war on terrorism and the U.S. public pays the bill.
WikiLeaks and the content that Edward Snowden have released information that has shocked most Americans. WikiLeaks worked to expose many of the unethical practices in which the United States officials and the military that persisted in foreign affairs. They showed that there were many activities that could be considered war crimes in violation of international law. These leaks also documented many instances in which the government has been coercive, to say the least. The showed that the U.S. had planned to punish Europe for not allowing Monsanto (U.S. based seed company) access to some of their markets among many other things (Smith).
The Snowden leaks have illustrated how the NSA and CIA have been monitoring the activities of average Americans; which represents a violation of many of the rights that Americans’ struggled for over the last few decades. There have even been more recent releases that show that the NSA is collecting actual emails from virtually every person it can; both foreign and domestic. One study has found that American are so afraid of domestic spying that they are actually sending less emails than they were before the releases were made. A new Harris Interactive Inc. survey says that in the year since Edward Snowden made his historic revelations about NSA phone and Internet surveillance, significant numbers of people are sending less email, curtailing their online shopping and banking, and generally being more careful about what they do online (Rosenbush).
The NSA even recorded the metadata from cell phones as well as email as well as gone as far as tapping Angela Merkel’s (the chancellor of Germany) personal cell phone which caused quite a stir in the international community. It is pretty obvious to most Americans that the line between security and personal liberty has been crossed if not thrashed altogether. Although Obama has recently stated that the U.S. is beginning to curtail its spying programs, there is much more work that needs to be done to protect civil liberties. In order to regain civil liberties and return them to their previous state it will take a lot of political will from the ground up to hold the U.S. institutions accountable for their violations of civil liberties.
Anonymous. “A World Beyond Borders.” 25 January 2011. Tunisia on Fire: Self-Immolation to World Revolution. Online. 2 April 2014.
Bio. “Edward Snowden Biography.” 3 April 2014. Bio. Online. 3 April 2014.
Collateral Murder. “Overview.” N.d. Collateral Murder. Online. 2 April 2014.
Eisenhower, D. “Military-Industrial Complex Speech, Dwight D. Eisenhower, 1961.” 1960. Coursea. Online. 3 April 2014.
Page, S. “Carter: Snowden’s leaks ‘good for Americans to know’.” 25 March 2014. USA Today. Online. 2 April 2014.
Rosenbush, S. “Post Snowden, Some Internet Usage Is Contracting, Study Finds.” 3 April 2014. CIO Journal. Online. 3 April 2014.
Smith, S. “New cables ‘expose’ U.S. govt lobbies worldwide for Monsanto, other GMO corps.” 14 May 2013. RT. Online. 3 April 2014.