NSA revelations force question: What do we want?

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In this June 6, 2013, photo, Reem Dahir takes a peek at fiancee Abraham Ismail’s laptop as they chat at a Starbucks cafe in Raleigh, N.C. The young couple understands the need for surveillance to prevent terrorist attacks, but they worry the government went too far by gathering secreting gathering phone data from millions of Americans. (AP Photo/Allen Breed)

by Adam Geller
NEW YORK (AP) — For more than a decade now, Americans have made peace with the uneasy knowledge that someone — government, business or both — might be watching.

We knew that the technology was there. We knew that the law might allow it. As we stood under a security camera at a street corner, connected with friends online or talked on a smartphone equipped with GPS, we knew, too, it was conceivable that we might be monitored.

Now, though, paranoid fantasies have come face to face with modern reality: The government IS collecting our phone records. The technological marvels of our age have opened the door to the National Security Agency’s sweeping surveillance of Americans’ calls.

Torn between our desires for privacy and protection, we’re now forced to decide what we really want.

“We are living in an age of surveillance,” said Neil Richards, a professor at Washington University’s School of Law in St. Louis who studies privacy law and civil liberties. “There’s much more watching and much more monitoring, and I think we have a series of important choices to make as a society — about how much watching we want.”

But the only way to make those choices meaningful, he and others said, is to lift the secrecy shrouding the watchers.

“I don’t think that people routinely accept the idea that government should be able to do what it wants to do,” said Marc Rotenberg, president of the Electronic Privacy Information Center. “It’s not just about privacy. It’s about responsibility … and you only get to evaluate that when government is more public about its conduct.”

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