Why Do We Have To Choose Between Privacy Or Security?

created image of guy looking in a window with POLICE on shirt
If you aren’t doing anything wrong then this should not be a problem, right?

The media coverage over what National Security Agency leaker Edward Snowden did, by publicly revealing the large surveillance program conducted by the NSA, included ridiculously breathless stories about his whereabouts, if the guy is a traitor (he’s not), and if Glenn Greenwald should be jailed for doing his job of reporting the story. What still isn’t being discussed is the reasons and methods behind the program Snowden exposed and why there isn’t much discussion about the accountability of the program. We have been given a false choice between privacy or security.

Bob Sullivan, on the NBC News website wrote a good essay about the problem of having the false choice of privacy or security:

“I’ve never liked the idea of security vs. privacy, because no one feels more secure in a surveillance state,” said Bruce Schneier, security expert and author of Beyond Fear: Thinking Sensibly About Security in an Insecure World. “There’s plenty of examples of security that doesn’t infringe on privacy. They are all around. Door locks. Fences … Firewalls. People are forgetting that quite a lot of security doesn’t affect privacy. The real dichotomy is liberty vs. control.”

Dan Solove, a privacy law expert at George Washington University Law School, said the privacy vs. security framing has interfered with what could be a healthy national debate about using high-tech tools to fight terror.

“You have pollsters and pundits and (National Intelligence Director James) Clapper saying, ‘Do you want us to catch the terrorists or do you want privacy?’ But that’s a false choice. It’s like asking, ‘Do you want the police to exist or not?'” he said. “We already have the most invasive investigative techniques permissible with the right oversight. With probable cause you can search my home. … People want limitations and transparency, so they can make a choice about how much surveillance (they) are willing to tolerate.”

By creating an either/or tension between privacy and security, government officials have invented a heavy weapon to wield against those who raise civil liberties concerns, he said. It’s easy to cast the choice in stark terms: Who wouldn’t trade a little personal data to save even one American life? 

Privacy vs. security: ‘False choice’ poisons debate on NSA leaks

Yes, we have examples of security that doesn’t mess with privacy like door locks and fences. The debate is really about liberty vs. control.

I also liked this bit later in the post:

In fact, Solove has a test he uses to consider every extension of government power, what might be called the “Hoover test.”

“Put J. Edgar Hoover in charge of the program. If your reaction is ‘Yikes!’ then there isn’t adequate protection built in,” he said. “One of the tests should be is how do we feel if we don’t like the people in charge, because we don’t know who will be in charge of it in the future.”

That’s the main thing. We should not be too trusting. I prefer to operate on the basis of the worse case scenario. We need to make sure there is plenty of transparency and accountability. These surveillance programs have been abused in the past so we need to work harder to make sure they aren’t abused now. You can’t do that behind a closed door.

Yes, Edward Snowden broke the law but to me he broke the law like Martin Luther King, Jr. broke the law in Birmingham, Alabama. Sometimes one must break unjust laws for the public good.

One may well ask: “How can you advocate breaking some laws and obeying others?” The answer lies in the fact that there are two types of laws: just and unjust. I would be the first to advocate obeying just laws. One has not only a legal but a moral responsibility to obey just laws. Conversely, one has a moral responsibility to disobey unjust laws. I would agree with St. Augustine that “an unjust law is no law at all.”

“Letter from a Birmingham Jail”

Snowden may not be as “great” as Dr. King, but our history is littered with people who broke unjust laws in order that we may all enjoy our constitutional rights.