NSA Surveillance: It Doesn’t Effect Me, Why Should I Care?

Not everyone is outraged or alarmed by the NSA leaks.  There are many people that are nonplussed, unconcerned for various reasons.  I’ll explore two, with a few tangents in-between.

1. I’m Not Doing Anything Wrong, So I have Nothing To Worry About

That’s a comforting notion.  It might be true.  If you’re a regular Joe going about your daily life, detached from any illegal activities, much less terror plots, then the chances are you’re not going to be directly impacted by the NSA spying on you.  But what’s legal today might be illegal tomorrow; and if not tomorrow, in ten, or twenty years.

NSA Surveillance
Does the NSA surveillance effect you directly? What value do we as a society place on the 4th amendment, when contrasted against our perception of the Government’s ability to protect us?

It’s overboard and unhelpful to say that the USA might one day be ruled by a Hitler-like regime.  While anything is possible, we don’t need to go to such lengths to see why the precedent of allowing the Government this much power and a lack of accountability can lead to disastrous consequences.  For good reason people tend to tune out when rhetoric about Hitler and Fascism are spouted.  It sounds too much like Alex Jones or Glenn Beck, and despite the fact a broken clock is right twice a day, many people, and I count myself among them, would rather steer clear of being associated with their particular brand of Kool-Aid.

NSA Spying Is Only Limited By Current Technology If Left Unchecked

It’s more grounded in reality to examine how power structures have worked historically, how they’re operating now, and how they’re likely to operate in the future, detached from fear mongering.  The NSA is spying on us to the degree that their technology allows.  Technology is growing exponentially.   Though the technology is in its infancy, there’s now a branch of neuroscience breaking into the exciting field of decoding dreams.  On the one hand, this is awesome.  I hope one day to be able to watch my dreams once I’m awake, because I have some awesome dreams.  On the other hand, there’s obvious implications.

Thought Crime

Most people are familiar with the concept of thought crime as described in George Orwell’s 1984.  It’s not ridiculous to foresee that technologies will exist in our lifetime that will be able to inspect our neural activity and what thought processes might be at play.  Whether or not this technology will be embedded into street cameras, or staring us in the face while we watch TV, might be a longer way off.  But that’s not really the point.  The point is that if the Government has access to technology that it claims can protect us from terrorists, foreign and domestic, the same arguments they use today will be the same they use tomorrow.

Does Widespread Surveillance Of American Citizens Protect Us?

The NSA didn’t protect us from the Boston Bombings.   We also know that the CIA had a great deal of intelligence concerning Osama Bin Laden’s attack on 9/11, but that these warnings were not heeded by the Bush administration.  Both of these are examples of intelligence agencies failing to use that intelligence to keep us safe.  

But what about all the lives that have been saved because of it?  Well that’s an interesting question, but it seems to me the Government would let us know about their successes, given their failures are so blatantly seen and felt by the public.

Telling us about the successes could compromise our intelligence agencies ability to stop terrorist attacks in the future.  The assassination of Osama Bin Laden wasn’t exactly kept secret.  If thousands of lives have been saved by Government surveillance, I think that information would be leaked by the Government, or told to us directly.  Maybe not immediately, but these things have a way of presenting themselves to the light of day.  I’m just not buying this as an argument.

“Those Who Sacrifice Liberty For Security Deserve Neither.” – Benjamin Franklin

It’s a beautiful quote with more than a grain of truth, but I understand we can’t all live up to the idyllic quotes of our forefathers.  What is important to understand is that if our Government strips us of our liberties, and if we are passive about it under the notion that it is only by their good grace that we are kept safe from imminent harm, we’ll find ourselves living under an increasingly repressive police state.  That’s not a conspiracy theory; that’s not fear mongering, it’s just the way of the world and the nature of power.  It’s why our Government has checks and balances, it’s why the founding fathers ensured that a Constitutional Convention could be called if the Federal Government got out of line, so that the States could get the ship sailing back in the right direction.

 2. This Doesn’t Effect Me, So I’m Not That Concerned

On the face of it, this sounds a lot like the first reason not to care too much about NSA surveillance, or Government overreach when it comes to our 4th amendment right to privacy.  But there’s something about the essence of this statement that rubs me the wrong way.  First, I don’t think many people actually mean this, when they really consider the topic, and second, which ties into the first, it reveals a cognitive dissonance.

I have friends that are straight and quite vocal about gay rights.  They believe that gay people, or anyone in the LGBT community, should be able to have the same exact same rights, including getting married, as straight people.  And I’m with them 100%.  But they’re straight; whether gay people can get married or not does not effect them.

But wait, yes it does, I have friends or family that are gay, and I care about them!  Aha!  As well you should.  But the same logic is applied to an invasion of any civil liberty that you don’t feel particularly impacts you.  If it impacts your fellow Man, be it friend or family, by the same logic that you support gay marriage, you should support standing up for civil liberties.

You can make an argument that it’s far more important for gay people to be able to get married than whether or not our Government is spying on us, and that’s fine.  It might be a perfectly cogent argument, so I’ll use some other examples.  If you’re a man, and you believe in a woman’s right to choose when it comes to abortion, you’re standing up for something that doesn’t impact you directly.  If you aren’t suffering from deadly hunger and thirst, the concerns of millions around the globe who are should not trouble you.  If you have medical insurance, the 50 million Americans who aren’t covered should not give you unrest.

I know, everyone has a right to decide what effects them personally and what does not.   It’s not necessarily cognitive dissonance to be unconcerned with the surveillance of Americans if you don’t feel it impacts you, but to be concerned with whether or not people have freedom of choice when it comes to abortion, or whether or not your fellow countrymen are bankrupt because of medical bills.  You’re free, and encouraged, to be as nuanced in your thinking as you choose.

I guess then in part I’ve defeated my own argument, but only to the degree that you believe the 4th amendment is not worth caring about.  You may one day come to value your privacy.  Perhaps one day our toilets will examine the contents of our urine and report this to a massive Government database, and if you’re not meeting your required intake of certain nutrients; or if illicit toxins are found, this too will be on record.

Actually, it’s just the the phrase, it doesn’t doesn’t effect me, so i’m not that concerned, that bothers me on a general level.  We’re not separate from one another, we’re social primates.  Compassion, empathy, and goodwill towards one another are core towards our own well being and the well being of our community, country and the world.  If you don’t think the NSA surveillance is a bad thing, and is good for people, that’s a more honest and palatable argument to me than dismissing your concern for it purely on the basis that you don’t see how it impacts you.

Perhaps it’s cliche and grandiose of me to tout Martin Niemöller’s famous quote, but it’s apt and I’m going to anyway.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out–
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.



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