It seems that I will have to delve more deeply into the issue of government surveillance. Up until this point I have said that thought that the government should be allowed a certain amount of liberty in data-gathering. I thought that as long as they had clear limits on what they could do, and did not exceed those limits, using what they learned responsibly, then it would be okay to let the government snoop a little. Today I’m re-examining that opinion. I read today about a company called Groklaw. I had never heard of the company before, but apparently they provided commentary on legal issues regarding open-source projects. When the manager of the site heard about what happened to Lavabit, she felt that because of the government’s actions Groklaw would be unable to operate. Groklaw required e-mail to function, and if the government was snooping in, the work would be stifled beyond functionality, and so the site was discontinued. Today I want to talk about this, and what exactly it is that the government should and should not be allowed to do. Let’s get to it 🙂
The big question here is the argument of privacy vs. security. The more safe you are, the less privacy you have. The more privacy you have, the less security the government can provide. In the past I was of the mind that privacy is not that important, because to me it’s not. I’m not a private person, neither do I hide things, at least not anymore. I’ve trained myself to have no secrets, just things I don’t reveal due to common decency. I don’t feel violated when people go through my stuff, and don’t care if they know my darkness of my past. All this to say that it is difficult for me to empathize with people who really are disturbed by these things. Today’s article taught me a lot about that which I don’t understand. I want to talk about three of those things: the clear effect of the government’s actions, the human need for privacy, and problem of government control.
First, let’s think about the harm that the government has been causing. I do not think that the ends and the means of an endeavor are related. They must both be right, and one does not justify the other. With that said, just because government interventions have caused three companies (Lavabit, Silent Circle, Groklaw) to shut down or amend their services does not mean that what the government is doing is wrong. However, it must be remembered that the role of government includes helping to improve the economy. If the actions of the government are stifling the economy, however well-meant those actions, then they need to be either changed or stopped completely. I still hold that the government needs to have some surveillance in order to do its job, but at this point it seems clear that the amount of surveillance going on is too much, and is causing perhaps more harm than good. And the harm goes beyond simply the economy. It extends to humanitarian issues.
In her article the manager of Groklaw talks about the basic human need for privacy, how people need a sense of being alone in order to function. I’m naturally introverted, so I understand this sensibility. I like being with other people, but I need time to myself every once in a while. I’ve known this is true, but I never really connected it with the Internet. Perhaps because my online presence is so minuscule I don’t think about the fact that someone might be watching me… Or perhaps, because I spent so much of my past looking at things on the Internet that I ought not I got used to the feeling that someone is ALWAYS watching me. When I’m on the Internet I don’t feel anonymous or secure, but rather I feel like everything I say or post is eventually going to be seen, so I walk on eggshells anyways. Either way, it doesn’t bother me to think that someone might be reading my e-mails. But, I can understand how that would be extremely uncomfortable for others. With this in mind, the fact that the government not only can read, but has been reading, people’s e-mails takes on a new significance for me. True, security from terrorists is important. But if that security comes at the cost of peace of mind and being able to live your life effectively, then it’s all for naught. There’s no point proecting a life that not worth living. But then the final problem arises, which is the problem of government controls.
Again from Groklaw’s manager, a good point arises: What to do when is the government gets too big, too controlling, too powerful? The answer, of course, is to change the way the government operates. But how to do that if the government can see and hear everything you do? Groklaw’s manager correctly points out that if the government is too powerful, and you’re trying to weaken it, then if it knows what you’re doing it will be able to accuse you of petty crimes and take you out of commission. If the government watches everything, then there is no way to resist the government. If you can’t resist the government, then the government can do whatever it wants, and that will lead ultimately to a totalitarian government.
The government has been getting steadily bigger and more controlling and watchful since 9/11, with even old data gathering laws gaining new meaning and far-reaching powers. I was of the mind that these new powers were okay, since they were for the purpose of keeping the American people safe. But I have now been convinced that the amount of damage these new governmental licences are causing is not worth the security they are supposedly providing. For the reason of evident effects, basis human dignity, and the ability to stand against the government if necessary, it must be admitted that the government has been too zealous in its control. Matthew 10:16 says “Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” I have been as innocent as a dove, but not as shrewd as a snake. I have trusted, but not been discerning. I am now taking steps to fix this attitude, and not realize that the government need better guideline to keep it in check, and better ways to make sure it actually follows the guidelines that are set out.