By Brinkley Branch
The Fourth Amendment: The right of the people to be, secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
Thirteen years ago most Americans thought they were living in the most secure environment on the planet. National Security and Privacy appeared to be unharmed until one frightful day when two planes crashed into the world trade center, killing 3,000 people. It was the most unimaginable thing that could happen, that one Tuesday morning.
After 9/11 everything crumbled. No one would have guessed that terrorists would have infiltrated our country and that soon the “War against Terror” would begin. But did all of this REALLY happen just under the noses of our government? Was our National Security THAT weak? What were the long term consequences of this attack? These and many other questions were flying around our country that year.
Now, 12 years later we have seen the aftermath, the NSA has taken it into their own hands to tap our phone lines and read our emails, to save our social network files and monitor us through our internet connected cameras. What is the balance between security and privacy? Should we really worry about privacy if we have nothing to hide? I think so.
If you think that you have nothing to hide then would you strip naked and let me take photos of you to post all over the internet? Would you like me to look through every text message or private email that you have ever sent? Will you bring out your credit card report for last year? Tax forms? Even if you say that I could do all of these things there is an underlying problem with this argument. There is a mental connection between privacy and a form of secrecy. For example, the University of South Carolina law professor Ann Bartow argues that in order to have a real resonance, privacy problems must "negatively impact the lives of living, breathing human beings beyond simply provoking feelings of unease.” She says that privacy needs more "dead bodies”, and that privacy's "lack of blood and death, or at least of broken bones and buckets of money, distances privacy harms from other [types of harm]."
Bartow’s description of privacy aligns with the nothing-to-hide argument. And it also makes since that people would be more reactive to blood and death matters than less threatening types of harm. Privacy is rarely lost in one fell swoop. It is usually eroded over time, little bits dissolving almost imperceptibly until we finally begin to notice how much is gone. When the government starts monitoring the phone numbers people call, many may shrug their shoulders and say, "Ah, it's just numbers, that's all.” Then the government might start monitoring some phone calls. "It's just a few phone calls, nothing more.” The government might install more video cameras in public places. "So what? Some more cameras watching in a few more places. No big deal.” The increase in cameras might lead to a more elaborate network of video surveillance. Satellite surveillance might be added to help track people's movements. The government might start analyzing people's bank records. "It's just my deposits and some of the bills I pay—no problem.” The government may then start combing through credit-card records, then expand to Internet-service providers' records, health records, employment records, and more. Each step may seem incremental, but after a while, the government will be watching and knowing everything about us.
"My life's an open book," people might say. "I've got nothing to hide.” But now the government has large logs of everyone's activities, interests, reading habits, finances, and health. What if the government leaks the information to the public?