Did you know that the National Security Agency (NSA) conducts invasive mass surveillance on its American citizens? If so, how do you feel about it? Do you think it's effective against national security threats, such as terrorism or cyber-crimes? Ever since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the NSA has been spying on citizens around the world. They have collected billions of electronic communications, including: email, video, voice chat, videos, photos, file transfers and social networking details, all without explicit consent from citizens nor clear disclosure. According to PewResearch, 53% of the United States population disproves of the government's mass surveillance efforts to combat terrorism. I think the NSA's illegal mass surveillance is an ineffective attempt at preventing crime because it: almost never yields positive results; infringes on citizens' privacy; and is unlawful.
These Programs Don't Yield Many Positive Results
The NSA's spying programs might sound logical to some because, theoretically, if you omnisciently knew about everything, you could prevent crime in real-time; however the NSA is not a god. A prime example of the ineffectiveness of the mass surveillance programs would be the Boston Marathon bombing in April 2013. Mass surveillance was already in effect at the time, but the attacks still occurred. The terrorists created bombs out of pressure cookers and killed three people and injured many others. While the terrorists were indeed caught, the evidences were not results of electronic surveillance. Years prior to this event, the Russian government warned the American government about the terrorists. They were placed onto an NSA watchlist, but the data collected was not able to prevent the attacks. In fact, after the bombing, the NSA misidentified plenty of innocent citizens as the terror suspects. For instance, a woman was interrogated by the FBI because she was shopping for pressure cookers and backpacks online.
If that wasn't enough for you, here's another example. In 2009, a military psychiatrist killed thirteen people at Fort Hood in Texas. The NSA actually did intercept communications suggesting a potential future terrorism attack, but they didn't pursue the man. They did not take any action against him and therefore, we lost thirteen innocent lives.
The NSA Violates Citizens' Privacy
In 2006, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) obtained evidence from an AT&T whistleblower showing that the company was cooperating with illegal surveillance. This illegal surveillance collected all emails and internet traffic without people's consent. They unlawfully installed a fiberoptic splitter which was able to capture such information from their subscribers nation-wide. The NSA was able to obtain the logs from AT&T.
As a matter of fact, after the NSA spying programs were discovered, President Obama stated that it would have been better if the American citizens had never learned about the programs. The government's intent was to keep it secret and hidden from the American population.
Another way they collect huge amounts of citizens' electronic data is by directly collecting data from American service providers. As revealed by Edward Snowden, an ex-CIA employee and subcontractor, the NSA stored electronic operations and activities performed using Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL, Skype, YouTube (which used to be a standalone company) and Apple's services. The data was aggregated and stored in massive NSA, FBI and CIA databases that could be searched through using querying tools. The databases also stored extensive amounts of private information.
Some people may say, "Well I have nothing to hide! Why should I care?" That's not necessarily true. You do have at least something to hide. Would you be comfortable publishing every thought, every email you received, every location you visited and every transaction you made to the internet? I'm pretty sure you wouldn't be. To those who said yes to that question, how about you shoot me an email with all your login credentials? I doubt you'd actually do so because you have something to hide. It's not a bad thing to have secrets, everyone has things they'd like to keep private, regardless of the type of person you are. You can read more about why the "Nothing to hide" argument is fundamentally flawed here.
The NSA's Mass Surveillance Is Unlawful
Seven years after Edward Snowden publicized the NSA's mass surveillance operations, an American appeals court ruled the programs unlawful and said the US intelligence leaders were not telling the truth. The court described the mass surveillance as a:
warantless telephone dragnet that secretly collected millions of Americans' telephone records
It was also ruled as unconstitutional. US government officials said that terrorists convicted in 2013 were caught thanks to the NSA's telephone record spying, but the court determined that the claims were, "inconsistent with the contents of the classified record."
The law on surveillance begins with the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, which states clearly that Americans' privacy may not be invaded without a warrant based on probable cause.
They also state that the US Supreme Court made it clear that this law covers government eavesdropping.
In conclusion, the NSA's mass surveillance programs are not that beneficial to the American population--they are actually harmful in most situations. Not only was the NSA unable to prevent terrorism attacks, but they also violate people's privacy and the American laws as well. We need to stand up to these ineffective, privacy-invasive and illegal operations.
If you'd like to defend yourself against the NSA's spying, I strongly suggest you take a look at the EFF's Surveillance Self-Defense guide. It is a great document to get started on improving your day-to-day privacy.