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Alex Renaut
Ms. Wilson
HELA 10
23 February 2015
The Fading Boundaries of Privacy
The American people are slowly losing their rights to privacy, while the government
permits themselves to continue enigmatic operations that the citizen has no part in. The double
standard that is coming in to place due to the government claims to be in the name of homeland
security, but the validity of that justification is questionable at best. Privacy should be a two way
street, if one side is required to be transparent, so should the other. After all, American citizens
are just that - citizens, not criminals - so a one-sided glass window in which the government can
practically interrogate the citizens without their knowledge while simultaneously leaving them in
the dark is completely uncalled for. Regardless of whether or not government surveillance and
data collection policies are constitutional and reasonable, it is not unrealistic to expect that the
government stays honest with the average citizen. The governments iconoclastic policies on the
privacy of both the average citizen and government operation jeopardize the very ideals that
America was founded on.
People act differently when they know they are being watched. Even still, they may have
different behaviors around different people. Imagine the behavior of someone who is constantly
being observed by a law enforcement agent or the likes. The person being watched would likely
act average, performing no out of the ordinary actions as to not draw suspicion to him or herself.
This is what privacy advocate Sonia Anderson fears, as she believes that video surveillance of
public spaces will encourage conformity and stifle individual expression because people who

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know they are being watched or fear the government will misuse the information will act
differently (Torr). It is entirely possible that one persons whimsical behavior could be
misinterpreted as erratic and dangerous. The simplest way for the citizen to avoid being
questioned is to act exceedingly average, which will leave nothing to be misinterpreted. This
creates an environment reminiscent of George Orwells 1984, in which each citizens every move
is carefully analyzed for any possible hint of non-conformity. While it seems that such a society
could never exist, if the United States government continues on this path, America will be closer
to Oceanias dystopian society than ever imagined.
Not only is the privacy of American citizens at risk, the government is also becoming
opaque in its actions. An unknown and potentially massive amount of information on even the
most average and law-abiding citizens, which leaves no telling what data an investigator has
access to. While data collection has been around for much longer than computing technology
has, it has undoubtedly become much easier to gain access to a wider variety of personal data on
just about anyone. Certainly, times exist where this is helpful; for example, it is beneficial for a
business to be able to target advertising to people who have shown to be interested in similar
products. Also, it is helpful for employers to be able to learn a small amount about their potential
employees. However, in these cases, its fairly obvious what information is being accessed and to
what end it is used for. The difference, therefore, is that the government can access all of this
information about anyone, and theres no telling what they may be looking at and for what
reason. In this political cartoon by Adam Zyglis, George Bush is depicted viewing surveillance
cameras of normal citizens performing everyday tasks. The press interrupt him through an
attempt to investigate and gain details on what exactly it is that he is doing, to which he replies,
Youre violating my right to privacy! (Zyglis). This cartoon clearly represents the

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governments double standard when it comes to privacy, allowing them access to personal details
as well as entitling them to privacy while doing so. This should not be the case, and to allow for
such a nonsensical contradiction to exist is completely unjustifiable to the American people.
The U.S. government has, in the past, been back and forth on the debate of privacy, but it
seems like they may be nearing a permanent standpoint. After the Watergate scandal, the
government concluded that there were two important values they must uphold. First, they would
not spy on their citizens, and second, those very citizens should be able to see what is happening
in the government of their country. However, these values seem to have been abandoned, as after
the terrorist attacks of September 11th, classification of political documents as well as public
surveillance has reached an all-time high (Lerner). The USA PATRIOT act was passed entirely
nearly entirely without public disagreement. The concept of it is simple, American citizens must
give up some of their civil liberties in order to maintain a safe and secure nation. Very few
actually realized what civil liberties they would be surrendering by passing this act, only to find
out later what exactly the USA PATRIOT act entailed (Benson). By granting new authorities to
law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the USA PATRIOT act has indubitably been proven
effective, as there has yet to be another terrorist attack in America (PAX America Institute). The
argument could be made that in order to protect one of the most important rights of all, the right
to be free from terrorist threats, there must be a small sacrifice by way of increasing government
access to surveillance and personal data. This may be true, but it may also be true that there is an
objectively better way to handle this situation rather than to threaten the values that founded this
very nation.
The limits of privacy, while by their very nature are unclear, may soon reach a definition.
This definition, however, may not be the one that is in the best interest of the American people. A

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single principle founded the United States, the principle that individual liberties that do not put
the liberties of others at stake are the single-most important thing for the government to protect.
It is impossible to appraise the value of one liberty and weigh it against another, but at the same
time, it cannot possibly be the case that sacrificing many rights in exchange for a better chance at
maintaining a single one is a fair trade. If one becomes complacent with such a one-sided deal,
then there will certainly be more to come down the line. American citizens must realize
immediately what is at stake if they do not act and protest for their individual privacy, or else by
the time they do later, it will be far too late. Even if individual privacy becomes a necessary
sacrifice, the government must too become more honest with the citizens they govern. With
every passing generation, the country takes one step further away from traditional American
ideals. To some, privacy may seem to be a non-issue, and they would argue that there are more
important things to protect. However, it has always been inaction that has allowed for injustice to
exist. In order to maintain a firm grip on the values that built America, action must be taken now,
not later.

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Appendix

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Works Cited
"2006 Cartoons | Adamzyglis.com." 2006 Cartoons | Adamzyglis.com. Buffalo News. Web. 25
Feb. 2015. <http://www.adamzyglis.com/2006cartoons.html>.
"Government Surveillance and the Right to Privacy." Civil Liberties and the War on Terrorism.
Ed. James D. Torr. San Diego: Lucent Books, 2004. 36-47. Lucent Terrorism Library.
Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.
"How Has 9/11 Changed America's Approach to Human Rights?" Human and Civil Rights:
Essential Primary Sources. Ed. Adrienne Wilmoth Lerner, Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, and
K. Lee Lerner. Detroit: Gale, 2006. 426-431. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20
Feb. 2015.
Knight, Judson. "Privacy: Legal and Ethical Issues." Encyclopedia of Espionage, Intelligence
and Security. Ed. K. Lee Lerner and Brenda Wilmoth Lerner. Vol. 2. Detroit: Gale, 2004.
447-448. Gale Virtual Reference Library. Web. 20 Feb. 2015
"USA PATRIOT Act. Effective. Preventive. Constitutional." PAX Americana Institute. PAI
Administrator, 25 Feb. 2007. Web. 23 Feb. 2015.
"USA PATRIOT Act." UXL Encyclopedia of U.S. History. Sonia Benson, Daniel E. Brannen, Jr.,
and Rebecca Valentine. Vol. 8. Detroit: UXL, 2009. 1618-1622. Gale Virtual Reference
Library. Web. 20 Feb. 2015.