Miles: Students should fear, fight online surveillance

Privacy is more of an issue now than it has perhaps ever been. As connected as we are, and as wonderful as it is to have the world at the call of your fingertips, it’s chilling to realize that this same technology can be used to monitor you just as easily. And, for some reason, this fact seems to escape a lot of people. Most seem to be aware of it on a surface level, but pay it no mind. After all, why does it matter? “I’m not doing anything wrong,” they say; “why would the government spy on me?” I’ve had people say that directly to my face, and I couldn’t even think of a retort at the time; the idea was that alien to me. I’d like to take this opportunity to convey my thoughts properly.

I think that these people are missing the point. It’s baffling to me to think that there are people who are completely okay with the government being able to actively monitor their online habits, or that private companies can custom-tailor their ad campaigns to target you based on what websites you like to visit. Isn’t it terrifying to know that all of this information is stored in giant databases in the middle of the desert? Even if it is miraculously not used for nefarious purposes, that it’s even there in the first place should raise concerns.

The fact of the matter is that you are being monitored. Not maliciously, unless you’ve done something to warrant it, but you’re being monitored nonetheless. Yet when people call out this sort of behavior and try to change it, they’re labeled as paranoid or crazy. Truly, it’s infuriating and incredibly worrisome. This isn’t some Chicken Little scenario; it’s the truth, and it’s literally right there for people to see.

In fact, as of Nov. 9, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit has ruled (in the case Klayman v. Obama) that the National Security Agency’s mass collection of American citizens’ data violates the Fourth Amendment. The court opinion echoed those activists that believe the NSA is overstepping its boundaries. The court argued that, in efforts to combat terrorism, the mass surveillance proved largely ineffectual, and instead harmed American citizens. The Fourth Amendment is a balance between security and liberty, and the Court of Appeals found that the NSA data collection fell on the wrong side of that balance.

It remains to be seen whether or not a court decision like this is enough to convince Americans that they need to worry about who exactly is watching. I imagine it will take a little more; I never actually saw this ruling on the news, only through Edward Snowden’s Twitter account. Perhaps I’ll take it upon myself to spread the word, and I think you should, too. These things are unimaginably important, especially on a college campus where we’re plugged in 24/7.

Finally, I’d like to note a quote by Snowden himself: “Arguing that you don’t care about privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”

At the very least, please be careful with what you do and say, both online in real life. After all, you really don’t know who could be watching.

Danny Miles is a second-year student who’s probably going to be put on some sort of list now. If he hasn’t been already.