In today's world, we utilize a wide variety of tools to interact with others and share information. From the commonplace texting to the use of Google, we have gained many new mediums through which we can find and transmit data with others in the world today.
Just as we have gained these new methods of giving and receiving information, though, we have also learned of the potentially dangerous ways in which this information can be wrongly obtained and used. The governments of many nations, including our own, have realized what a treasure chest these new mediums can be. In an effort to protect their own assets and citizens, they have tapped these gold mines in order to find and neutralize potential or current threats to their country. Some of these methods of eavesdropping and hiding the gathered information have been scrutinized, with many arguing about the unethical and immoral nature of how the information was obtained and kept secret from the public. By acquiring this data secretly, one could say that a citizen's right to privacy would be violated. Some would say that it is justified in order to protect our country. However, where does one draw the line between the right to privacy and national security? Furthermore, why should we have privacy, much less a right to it?
We can define privacy as the ability of a person to differentiate and pick what information to share or withhold about him- or herself. This allows a person to isolate him- or herself from others. As we communicate and interact with others, we selectively pick what types of information to reveal to others. This independent ability to deny or entrust others with what we know is a major part of creating relationships with others.
In a sense, we require privacy in order to judge and prioritize relationships with others. Being privy to information that others don't know makes us feel more valued, and we increase communication with those that make us feel that we are worth something to them. This, in turn, leads to the right to privacy — it allows us to distinguish the people who care more about ourselves from those who may not. When other people eavesdrop in these conversations without our consent, though, this presents a problem.
In the issue of privacy versus national security, the problem lies with the unauthorized listening. In doing so, the third party obtains information that the first party did not intend for him or her to receive. This interferes with the first party's ability to selectively deliver information to others. Taking some arguments from Kantianism, an action would be unethical if it would prevent a person from being autonomous, or making independent, unforced decisions. By covertly attaining this information, you have already robbed the person of some of his or her free will. We also have the ability to judge on a case-by-case basis, but there are hiccups in the system, too.
For example, if a person whose Internet traffic showed that he did heavy research in the creation of illegal drugs, there might be some suspicion about what he will do. However, what if it was an author who was reading into drugs in order to create a realistic novel? The man would be wrongly flagged as a danger, and he might run into trouble when he tries to find companies to publish his book.
There is only so much detail I can go into about this issue in a column. However, the main point is that the methods the U.S. government uses to eavesdrop on U.S. citizens can result in some assumptions, which can cause large consequences on those unluckily enough to be flagged as potential dangers. For those who are Muslim or have Middle-Eastern ethnicity, some people might go over the top and automatically assume them to be terrorists without sufficient proof, which is absolutely contradictory to the purpose of defending U.S. citizens and assets.
— Jan Urbano is a junior in biochemistry and molecular biology. He can be reached at email@example.com.