The History and Mathematics of Codes and Code Breaking

Tag: Constitution

Privacy Is a Right, Not a Privilege 

I take issue with the way this debate is often framed: privacy versus security. It’s misleading to suggest that privacy is directly opposed to security. A more apt name would be privacy versus surveillance. My point in these semantics is that, even given a wide latitude to monitor the people of this country, government surveillance doesn’t necessarily make us any safer. The American people are and have been under what some would consider heavy surveillance for a few years and it has not demonstrably impacted our security. What makes us think that expanding the reach of that surveillance would suddenly be more effective? The likelihood of some bad actor within the government abusing their power to invade the privacy of American citizens, as has already happened with the NSA, is too great to justify whatever security may or may not be gained by giving that bad actor more tools to work with.

Secondly, regardless of the effectiveness of surveillance, privacy is a right. Plain and simple. By surveilling the American citizenry, the government violates that right on a national scale. I think that the right to privacy should be more clearly stated in the constitution, but it is alluded to in the fourth amendment, and it is clearly a principle on which this country was founded, even if the founding fathers didn’t think of it in terms of privacy because this debate looked different due to differences between then and now in technology. The intent behind “no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause” is pretty hard to mistake: it is a breach of privacy, and therefore a breach of our rights as citizens of this country to be subjected to involuntary surveillance by our government.

Strict or Loose Construction?

Marcus argues during class with both Charles and Mrs. Anderson about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Though both sides in the book are represented by extreme views for the sensationalism of attempting to tell a good story, the actual debate is a valid case of differing opinions. The question of when to suspend the Bill of Rights remains contentious, however the government has made rulings in the past relating to the matter. Marcus states that the Bill of Rights is absolute, and should never be suspended. While this is a valid opinion, it does not reflect the views of the nation in “Little Brother”, nor does it reflect the views of our nation. The Supreme court has ruled that shouting “Fire” in a crowded theater, or hate speech, for example, are not protected under the first amendment, freedom of speech and expression. Though I would say that these examples are not necessarily suspending the Bill, the federal governments’ Patriot Act represents a suspension of the Bill in certain cases. The government is given wide latitude to seek out and prosecute terrorism based on a much lesser standard of truth than a court of law. Additionally, an important part of the debate is the right to privacy versus surveillance. Whether the right to privacy exists in the Bill of Rights is not debatable, there is no stated rule that creates it. The only arguments come from the 14th amendment, where Roe v. Wade was ruled based on the implied right to privacy. As part of the debate, Mrs. Anderson brings up how the constitution was made to change and adapt to the times, and that the founding fathers did not mean for it to remain immutable for years. Marcus argues the opposite, what is known as strict constructionism. Though I do not agree with how Mrs. Anderson wants to change the constitution, I would agree that it should not be interpreted literally, and that it should evolve with society. The very idea that the constitution has a built in amendments process shows that the founding fathers did not believe that they were the final say on the way this nation should be run.

What do people find important in the debate over security vs privacy?

The question that was asked on this display at the Newseum was similar to the one we were asked on the first day of class. We were asked if we agreed or disagreed with giving up our privacy for more security. This question takes it a step further, and asks specifically what people would give up for that extra security. There were some expected responses that I saw, like “Text messages + phone records”, “Freedom”, and also a few other random answers that didn’t really contribute to the purpose or message of the display. There were two that I saw that stood out though. One was “as much as necessary to feel safe”. The other was the Benjamin Franklin quote, that said “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty or safety”.

These two responses stood out to me because they seem to fall on the two sides of the privacy vs security debate. The first one reminds me of a few of the characters from Little Brother who were on the pro-security side. Characters like Marcus’s dad and Charles has the same mindset as this viewpoint. Marcus’s dad felt okay with complying with anything the DHS said as long as it made him feel like he was safer. If it cost him an extra 2 hours going to and from work, then so be it. Even the hassle of being stopped by police for no reason was not enough to faze him. As long as the DHS was trying to catch terrorists, any violation of privacy was okay.

The other response reminds me of the argument that Marcus, Charles, and Mrs. Andersen had during their class period. Mrs. Andersen said something along the lines of “our founding fathers intended for the constitution to change over time as viewpoints changed”. The Benjamin Franklin quote makes me feel as if this might not be entirely true, or at least not to the extent of what Mrs. Andersen said. I think they expected times to change, but some things were essential to a well-working government, and one of these was respect of the citizens privacy. On the other side, citizens shouldn’t even have to consider giving up their liberties, but if they were given that choice, the founding fathers still believed that their liberty is more important.


Safeguards for Privacy

I can say with certainty I would give up some of my privacy to feel safer however, I would not give up all of it. The USA PATRIOT Act passed after 9/11 in my opinion disregards the trust of the American people in the government. For example, part of the USA PATRIOT Act, passed after 9/11 before its revisions, enabled the Federal Bureau of Investigation to tap the telephones of people inside the US without a warrant. This violates the First Amendment because Americans are not free to speak. Someone could be eavesdropping. They can be investigated for exercising their right to free speech. This means their speech is not free, their words cannot be expressed without fear of sanction. In order to maintain a balance between privacy and security there needs to checkpoints to ensure the government is not overstepping the bounds of the Constitution. I believe an effective checkpoint to hold the government accountable to obeying the Constitution is the court of law. There should be a judge, a second opinion who is experienced in executing the law, to permit the eavesdropping on private conversations. If the issuing of a warrant might alert the terrorist that he or she is under scrutiny, the court proceedings can be kept secret and made public when the information is no longer relevant. This way, we can be sure the world Cory Doctorow writes about in Little Brother does not become a reality.

Universal Surveillance – Worse Than Terrorism?

In Cory Doctorow’s novel, Little Brother, an argument breaks out between Marcus and his new social studies teacher on pages 206-211. The logistics of the argument surround Mrs. Andersen’s opening statement to the class, “Under what circumstances should the federal government be prepared to suspend the Bill of Rights?”

Marcus openly engages the teacher and his fellow classmate, Charles, by defending his view that the “Constitutional rights are absolute.” Essentially, he believes that the Constitution should not be interpreted loosely in a way that would benefit the government. The two opposing him, however, firmly believe that it is okay to bend civil liberties so long as it is on the grounds of good intentions.

What stood out to me the most during this argument was when Marcus proclaimed that, “universal surveillance was more dangerous than terrorism.”

This brought me back to our class discussion over the second blog post, which was in regards to student surveillance. The belief that both Mrs. Andersen and the article writer, Michael Morris, had in common was that giving up a civil right, such as privacy, was the only way to secure safety.

Of course, there is no right answer to this debate. Everyone wants to be safe, but at what cost are people willing to secure it at?

My belief is that once someone experiences the true nature of universal surveillance, they see the complexity of the matter. That is why I side with Marcus on this debate. Universal surveillance creates a form of terrorism in itself. Everyone is forced to look over their shoulder and wonder if their actions will be interpreted as terrorism. As seen in the novel, teenagers were able to disrupt a government agencies’ system of universal surveillance. They were able to disrupt travel patterns, “walking identities”, and even create their own network that was practically unbreakable by the government.

My point is, everyone has something to hide – and not all of it involves breaking the law. Our privacy is something that makes us who we are. It gives us the chance to break away from society and digest what has happened during our busy day. Criminals will always find a way to get around the law: it is who they are. That is why a more organic approach needs to be taken to this new era of cyber warfare. Unfortunately, I do not have an answer to what that is, but I do know that society would not be the same if we were not able to freely be who we are today.

Are You Going to Let Fear Infringe Upon Your Right to Privacy?

The idea of uncertainty has left people in a frenzy for ages. However, with the improvements seen in technology we have begun to uncover what had previously been unknown to us. Morris, in his essay “Mining Student Data Could Save Lives”, highlights the ability to limit undetected campus violence through the use of data mining. As Universities already provide significant online resources, it would not be difficult for them to use software to single out erratic behavior among students. While Morris does acknowledge issues regarding the right to privacy, he firmly believes that data mining in college campuses is not significantly different than social media recognizing one’s likes and dislikes. As a result, he supports the usage of data mining which he believes will aid in limiting the violence that occurs on college campuses and create a safer environment among students and faculty.

As Morris’s concerns for the safety of college campuses prove to be a valid argument, this is an invasion of our privacy. Safety is and always will be a priority for our country but the fear of not knowing the future has led to significant infringements on our right to privacy. Now one might argue, have we ever even had the right to privacy? Even though it is assured in the Constitution, security always trumps privacy rights. America is known for its freedom- it’s even recited in our Pledge of Allegiance on a daily basis.  However, with the implementations of these safety precautions as recommended by Morris, this pledge loses its value.

Measures similar to data mining have already been enacted limiting the amount of privacy we have. Another software system would lower the little privacy or even eliminate the privacy which we believe we have left. Even though it will provide safer environments, it is already known that it cannot be expected to be completely accurate.  This just further proves that it just isn’t worth it. We will never be able to predict what will certainly happen tomorrow, it just statistically is not possible. We need to learn how to live with this uncertainty if we want to salvage the little privacy we have left.


The Priority of Privacy

In Little Brother, a novel written by Cory Doctorow, protagonist Marcus Yallow, a.k.a. “M1k3y,” battles against the prospect of universal surveillance by the very agency meant to protect him and his country. In his efforts to galvanize an army of young protesters against the radical Department of Homeland Security (DHS), I could not help but sympathize with his interpretation of our constitutional rights as they apply to privacy.

Heroes: M by Frederic Poirot

In a heated class discussion, Marcus argues that the liberties provided by the Bill of Rights and intended by revolutionary forefathers are absolute and unwavering in their applicability. Those siding with the DHS, however, justified the sacrifice of personal liberties in the name of national security. The passage and novel as a whole raises an interesting and relevant question in regards to privacy: In our modern times, is the tracking of our digital whereabouts justified by the assurance (or hopeful promise) of sound national security?

In my opinion, the answer is no. While digital tracking does increase the efficiency of certain services, such as optimizing a search engine or bombarding key demographics with relevant internet ads, it is counter-intuitive in the context of national security. Surely, universal surveillance seems like a logical solution – track everyone, find the culprit. As demonstrated by the “the paradox of the false positive,” however, universal surveillance proves inefficient by amounting to a surplus of unreliable conclusions and data. Of course, there do exist instances in which a narrow, more focused application of surveillance proves effective, but these instances are considerably covert and target highly suspicious individuals (or at least, that’s how the government today makes it seem). But even when ignoring practicality, the implications of surveillance oppose what we believe to be fundamental, inherent liberties stated in the Constitution, but true regardless of context. In saying so, I believe that our digital shadows should be just that, our digital shadows, for no one else to see.

Scale of Justcie

Where Do We Draw the Line

Throughout Little Brother by Cory Doctorow, I found myself torn as to who I should support. Several times I found myself questioning what I believed and what I would do. In chapter 13, however, I had no trouble siding with Marcus during his discussion in class about suspension of constitutional rights.

Scale of Justcie

When Mrs. Anderson brought up the hypothetical situation where a police officer went beyond what his search warrant allowed for, and found indisputable evidence to prove the person is guilty. This is a classic question of whether the law or justice is more important. She asks, “Should the bad guy go free?” Should he? No, but he must.

In the same way that the Miranda Rights prevent police from using evidence gained without the other party knowing his or her rights, a police officer cannot use evidence gained in an illegal search. No one would ever tell you that he deserves to go free, but because of how our system works, that is the way it must be. The day we start bending the rules is the day we can no longer trust the rules to be on our side.

The fact is that without rules we are a bunch of uncontrollable creatures who act selfishly whenever possible. Either we have rules or we do not, there is no in between. If rules are not absolute, then there is no way to enforce them with a straight face. Obviously there are times when certain rules must be suspended (state of emergency), but there are rules in place that explain how that works. The problem arises when a government suspends rules/rights that they have no right to suspend.

The Constitution is a living document, and I agree that changes have to be made to it in order for it to continue to function as intended. However, the the way the teacher describes it is not that. She seems to believe that you take the Constitution as guidelines rather than rules, which is just downright false. If you do not like what the Constitution says, you have to change it. You cannot just ignore it.

Picture Credits: Scale of Justice 2 New: Original by DTR, Derivative by Agradman

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