Will You Fight Big Brother, or Fall by the Wayside?

Introduction:

I was reading an article by Bruce Schneier in which he calls upon major Internet corporations to fight against the control that the American government is attempting to exert, and even is exerting, over the Internet.  He calls for them to oppose the government, even if it might mean they get shut down.  If they do not, in the future when their actions are found out, their own users will turn against them.  In this post I want to talk about the points that Mr. Schneier makes, and think through the morality of the governments actions.  Have the government actually done anything wrong?  Is there need to be wary of what is going on?  This is what will be answered in the next section.

Analysis:

     Mr. Schneier begins by laying the groundwork for what is happening.  The government, specifically the National Security Agency (NSA), as a part of their PRISM project (meant as a data gathering project , to secure America from terrorist threats), has been forcing companies such as Google and Microsoft to divulge information about their users.  The precise nature of the information has been declared classified, and is unknown.  Mr. Schneier warns the corporations that their most viable option at this point is to fight against these demands for information, despite the fact that this would bring the fury of the government to bear on their interests.  His reasoning is that if they do not fight, in the future when their involvement is brought to light, their customers will feel betrayed, and their backlash will be worse than anything the government can conjure.  On the other hand, if they do fight, they might win, but even in losing they will retain the respect of consumers for their efforts, for even though they were forced to give up information, it was completely against their will.  The rest of the article is both about ways that companies have tried to fight, such as the shut down of two secure online e-mail clients, and evidence of the changing tides of public opinion.

What are the issues here?  The American government has been forcing Internet companies to give up information that was meant to be confidential, a clear invasion of individual’s privacy.  The issue actually goes beyond this.  I found this article which points out that the NSA has also been pressuring companies to add backdoors into their security, so that the NSA can get in themselves if they need to.  They’re essentially not just asking for information, but also asking for the keys to snoop around anytime they need/want to.  So what’s the big deal?  All this, the data gathering, PRISM, the backdoors, are all for the purpose of giving the NSA the tools it needs to protect America from terrorists, right?  So what’s the problem with that?  That’s what it is supposed to do.  The problem, in my opinion, really stems from the fact that there is no effective control on what the NSA does.

I would be perfectly happy with allowing the NSA access to a bit more information than others have, simply because they would the have an edge to do their jobs, but this only applies if there is some sort of checks-and-balances system in place to keep the NSA from abusing the power it has.  Jeremiah 17:9 says that “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?”.  For all the good the NSA might do, it is made up of people, and these people have hearts which are wicked, just like everybody else’s.  They should not be trusted with such power, but instead there should be a way to monitor what they do, an untenable approach, seeing as how their operations are by nature confidential.  It is for this reason that I think that their intrusion into the private information of the Internet should not be allowed.

Also, I should note that my being marginally okay with the NSA’s spying has only has to do with them looking into American information.  There has also been a lot talk about how the NSA spied on the President of Brazil, and other important poeple/companies outside of the US.  I would say that that is something that is completely unacceptable.  Even if the NSA were to be given certain liberties, this would not extend outside of the US.  They have no jurisdiction in information that comes from foreign countries, even if the Internet is an open forum.

Summary:  

People are very much upset over the fact that the American government, through the NSA, has been gathering information through the strong-arming of Internet giants such as Google and Yahoo.  I am personally okay with giving the NSA access to some such information, if it were for the purpose of protecting America from terrorist threats, and if there were definite ways to regulate the NSA’s activities, preventing them from abusing their privileges.  I am NOT, however, okay with the NSA using their resources to spy on companies and people who are not US citizens.  There are limits to what is allowable, and the NSA’s reach into private info cannot be allowed to extend outside of America, no matter the purpose.

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