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Ear to the Ground

Eight Common Excuses for Mass Spying and Why They’re Wrong

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Posted on Dec 1, 2013
Brian A Petersen (CC BY-SA 2.0)

The Electronic Frontier Foundation compiled a list of “common refrains of folks confused, nonplussed, or simply exhausted from the headlines” about NSA surveillance and informed responses that can be used to enlighten a conversation.

The first is predictably heard from well-meaning people everywhere. “I have nothing to hide from the government, so why should I worry?” The foundation suggests a few responses, depending on what is likely to work best for the person posing the question:

Point out how mass surveillance leaves you at the mercy of not only the NSA, but also to the DEA, the FBI and even the IRS. We know that the government claims that any evidence of a “crime” can be sent to the appropriate law enforcement agencies. 

Tell them that, even if you don’t think you have something to hide, it’s possible the government thinks you do, or can create some concern about you (or your friends or loved ones). There are so many laws and regulations on the books, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner said the Congressional Research Service did not have the resources to count them all.  One legal expert has argued that the average person likely commits three felonies a day without ever realizing. So, you may be technically breaking a law you have no idea about.

We all benefit from a system that allows privacy. For example, when journalists can speak to sources without the specter of surveillance, helping fuel investigative journalism and the free flow of information. And this is not just a hypothetical—the Department of Justice subpoenaed the phone records of Associated Press journalists in an effort to track down government whistleblowers. And it’s not just journalists. Activists, political organizers, lawyers, individuals conducting sensitive research, businesses that want to keep their strategies confidential, and many others rely on secure, private, surveillance-free communication.

Other points include the presumption that the NSA spies exclusively to stop terrorists, the belief people in government won’t abuse their power, and the assertion that in an age of Facebook, Twitter and Google, privacy is an antique value. Read them all here.

—Posted by Alexander Reed Kelly.

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