The Newseum display encourages people to consider the issue of privacy versus security and asks us what we would be willing to give up to feel safe. There are many interesting responses on the whiteboard underneath the display, but the one that stood out to me the most was the Ben Franklin quote, which reads, “Those who would give up essential liberty, to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” While we can assume Franklin did not say this with modern technology and its possible implications for government surveillance in mind, the core message can still be applied. Essentially, this statement suggests that personal liberty is a fundamental necessity that should not be sacrificed under any circumstance, which can be interpreted in support of the privacy argument. If people knew, or even just thought, that they were under constant surveillance, they would likely behave differently, even if they weren’t doing anything wrong. They might begin to feel like they don’t have ownership over their own lives. Like Marcus says in Little Brother, being subject to surveillance is like pooping in public. You’re not doing anything illegal or immoral, but it’s still unsettling.
Personally, I agree with Franklin’s point that liberty should not be sacrificed for safety, but I don’t think that means government surveillance is completely unacceptable. To an extent, the government can collect information on the general population to look for potential safety risks in a way that doesn’t make us feel like we no longer own our lives. For example, I wouldn’t mind if the government had access to information such as my purchase history or even my location history, since I wouldn’t feel the need to worry about keeping them private as long as my behavior is legal. However, I would have a problem if they snooped through my personal ideas in the form of text messages or private note files. I consider those worthy of being kept private. If a stranger had access to my personal conversations and thoughts, I would behave differently and feel less in control, even if I’m not doing anything wrong. Basically, I draw the line where the information collected stops being rationally useful for promoting public safety and begins to threaten my personal liberty for no apparent benefit.