We are all somewhat aware of the incessant information our devices have of us. Fleeting thoughts and underdeveloped opinions make their way onto our search engines. We may forget after a couple of hours, but our devices won’t. Fragments of our conversations, visited locations, pictures, personal information and documented thoughts will mold together to form this being that represents our individual presence on the internet. Contrary to natural assumption, this information does not float in an inaccessible abyss. No, actually our personal identities are a threat to the country’s safety because the government surveils this information under measures of national security. The biggest threat to the First Amendment is the government’s stake on online data.
The government has gained access to that information abyss. Those working for tech companies have begun questioning their company’s role in this matter. Kate Conger and Cade Metz report on this issue in the New York Times, interviewing Google employees about their unknown involvement in government collaborations. The Chinese government and Google are a perilous combination for internet freedom. Dr. Jack Poulson became aware of this duo working together while he was working on a project for Google as a research scientist. He began to question if his work was contributing to the censored-internet Google was working on for the Chinese government. When confronted by Poulson, Jeff Dean, the head of artificial intelligence at Google, revealed that 100% transparency regarding the matter would betray the customer’s confidentiality. Poulson quit the company the following day. If Google was helping the Chinese government restrict speech, what guarantee did Americans have that the United States government was not doing the same through digital surveillance?
Owning a smartphone and having privacy is mutually exclusive. Public thoughts are filtered thoughts, but our private thoughts become public without our consent. Receiving access to this private domain is not just justified with the government’s concern for national security. Congress passed the Patriot Act in 2001 after 9/11, expanding the government’s surveillance powers to fight the war on terrorism. However, it has been seventeen years, and people should demand reviewing Patriot Act due to its 4th Amendment violations, unreasonable search and seizure, but it also is a threat to the 1st Amendment.
Monitored speech will dilute an individual’s right to speak. A citizen has the right and the duty to hold their government accountable in exchange for his, her or their consent to be governed. Free speech accomplishes this. Without the Pentagon Papers, the truth about the Vietnam War would not have been revealed. Without Snowden, the public would not have known about the government’s overbearing surveillance on its citizens. The Espionage Act gets aggressively thrown at whistleblowers, yet the government stands strong on a pedestal, protected by the Patriot Act. Now, our secrets belong to the government. Locked away in a sealed room are the secrets the government hides from the American people. The only ones with access to that room have forgotten their obligations as public servants, to serve and protect its democratic citizens.
First, they came for public surveillance, and I did not speak out because I had nothing to hide.
Then, they came for online surveillance, and I did not speak out because I feared for my life.
Then, they came for censorship, and I did not speak out because they told me the people did not understand how the government was protecting me.
Then, they came for my free speech, and there was no private voice to critique, protest and object the government overbearing with.