It’s the holiday season. You hop on the metro, paying with your Charlie card, heading inbound to Copley. You notice there’s a Starbucks next to the store, so you naturally go inside to buy your usual, double short latte with almond milk. You need all the energy you can get, anticipating the lines in the store. You receive a call from your daughter, and she’s asking where you are. “I’m working late. I’ll try my best to make it by dinner,” you lie softly, trying to keep her present a surprise and continue walking through the store. You unlock your phone to safari, typing into your search engine, “differences between the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air” because you’re not sure which one to get. After the Apple Genius employee makes a recommendation, you decide on one and tap your Apple Pay on your phone for the $1380.19 purchase. It hurts, but you know your daughter will be happy to see it and use it in college. You arrive home, hide the present at your neighbor’s house. You open the front door, and your daughter is sitting on the couch smiling at you. She doesn’t know what she’s getting for the holidays, but the information technology specialist with security clearance does. Through your location, your online searches and your purchase history, a lot can be revealed without the explicit content.
This is the intrusive power of metadata. Machines can run through the data transcripts and filter through this information without the actual content. A different United States of America exists in the post 9/11 world. Once the PATRIOT Act (Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism) passed in 2001, the government expanded its surveillance powers for national security matters. Governments have the power to interact with the data hidden in electronic communications. They justify this collection of data with the national security narrative.
As British foreign secretary, William Hague, said, you have nothing to worry about if you are a law-abiding citizen. However, that’s the problem. If I am a law-abiding citizen, why is data stored on my electronics available to anyone with the security clearance to see it? Agencies bypass the step in which they must obtain a warrant, detailing their reasons to why a search is justified. When surveillance is actively taken place with no purpose or notice, it becomes a problematic matter and an abuse of power. Alan Rusbridger raises the question, what’s the public interest? It is in the country’s interest to find protection from domestic and foreign threats. Is surveillance the only way to achieve those means? However, does the burden outweigh the benefits?
John Locke believed the governors derived their power from the consent of the governed. Politicians drive their support behind mass surveillance measures. Senator Jay Rockefeller coined the program to be the “crown jewel of the national security arsenal.” Even if it is the prized possession of the NSA, the citizens deserve the right to know about it and consent. If not, this is a threat to the privacy and speech to citizens.
Journalists risk the confidentiality of their sources when reporting. Agencies can put the pieces of the puzzle piece together through merely metadata. A journalist does not have to give up their source if the FBI can follow a trail through emails and phone records. Once again, the content in the phone calls or emails is not even necessary to reveal information with the aid of metadata. Put in an arduous position, the journalist must increase security and encryption abilities available to sources so they may continue to feed information without the fear of being caught themselves.
The Patriot Act passed at a time where there was a valid national security threat. However, the time of war has ended. Surveillance is a prior restraint, an unconstitutional breach of power by the government. We do not belong to the government; The government belongs to us.