Response to Obama’s “Can’t Have 100% Security, 100% Privacy” Statement

At a recent press conference, President Obama defended the unconstitutional and intrusive NSA surveillance program. The former civil liberties defender (remember that he ran on an anti-Patriot Act campaign platform!) said, “You can’t have 100 per cent security and also then have 100 per cent privacy.” Well, yeah, but no one is asking for 100 percent security. 

No one really wants to total security. It would be a miserable and boring existence. We are all at risk all the time, whatever we do. Stepping outside of your house presents a safety risk. Driving a car is risky. Breathing air (!) can be dangerous. We can work to reduce safety risks but there is no way to be completely safe and have a fulfilling life. 

Prisoners held in solitary confinement are safe, but they are not free. There is zero privacy due to surveillance cameras watching prisoners’ every move. Dwight Eisenhower allegedly said, “If you want total security, go to prison. There you’re fed, clothed, given medical care and so on. The only thing lacking… is freedom.” Obviously, no one wants to have the life of a prisoner. 

Some people have responded to the NSA leak by saying that we shouldn’t expect real privacy in the 21st century. They ask: Does America really care about privacy since people have so much personal information on their Facebook profiles? How come people aren’t as outraged about Google collecting information about us? Electronic privacy is already compromised by Amazon and YouTube, right? 

There is a big difference between private companies and the government collecting information about you. First, using online private companies is voluntary. No one is forcing you to use Facebook or Amazon. Online private companies have Terms of Service and Privacy Policy Agreements that you must agree to before using their services. These agreements openly say how they collect and manage information about you. 

For instance, Google’s Privacy Policy says, “We will share personal information with companies, organizations or individuals outside of Google when we have your consent to do so. We require opt-in consent for the sharing of any sensitive personal information.”

By clicking agree to the Terms of Service, you enter into a voluntary and legally binding contract with the company. If a website violates its privacy contract, you have the right to take legal action against the company. 

Privacy is the right to control information about you. It’s not about secrecy or hiding bad things. Everyone gets to decide what personal information to include—and exclude—on their Facebook profile. It’s 100% voluntary and you have control over who sees what information. You can block certain people from status updates. If you are “creeped” out by Google’s targeted ads, there are options to hit the “Opt Out button” that disables tracking or not use Google anymore. 

Privacy breaches happen when someone sees information that you did not intend for them to see. Government, by definition, is not voluntary. Government is snooping around in your private information without you even knowing. You never signed a privacy contract. You did not intend for the government to read and listen to your private emails and phone calls. You have no choices. There is no legal recourse that you can take. If you don’t like it—well, that’s too bad. Plus, hey, government snooping violates the Fourth Amendment that bans unreasonable searches and seizures.

The government can’t make us 100% safe–nor should it try. No one wants total security, but everyone should want to restore our constitutional right to privacy. Privacy enables us to live freely without government constantly intruding in our personal lives. 

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