American snoops


Those who know me would say I’m proud to be an American. Hell, my nationality makes for a regular conversation-starter living in the Great White North.

After I introduce myself as American, what usually follows are questions regarding my political beliefs on guns, gay rights and imperialism. Recently, I’ve been getting more and more questions about the National Security Agency (NSA)’s spy programs that were revealed by a former government computer specialist named Edward Snowden.

The overwhelming majority of Canadians who ask me about these programs see them as justifiable; lost privacy is okay if lives are saved by the intelligence gained
through snooping.

However, this viewpoint is unsettling — Snowden’s leaks should discomfort anyone who cares about privacy and limiting state power.

Normally, Congress acts as a check on the NSA and the entirety of the executive branch. However, some Congress members have said they didn’t have full knowledge of what was being authorized in laws that extended the NSA’s power. Moreover, the special court that oversees the NSA almost always allows the agency to do what it wants.

Young people should be especially troubled by these developments as we spend lots of time using digital means of communication. Are you comfortable with your online activities being monitored and possibly recorded for use at a later time?

Every form of government either directly or indirectly derives its power from the people it governs. Americans get this. Canadians get this. Egyptians get this.

The NSA’s overreaching programs and their ongoing defence by many Washington lawmakers and bureaucrats are not signs of a healthy democracy. We deserve greater democratic accountability from our governments and should demand it.

Your neighbours to the south might very well be reading your text messages, emails and phone logs right now — that’s the thing: the lack of clarity and secrecy on all fronts prevents anyone from knowing specifically what is being logged.

As Canadians, you are particularly vulnerable to NSA snooping because nearly all of Canadian internet traffic passes through the US. The sad reality is that there’s almost nothing preventing the NSA from spying on non-US citizens.

No matter where they snoop, the principle is the same. By spying indiscriminately, the NSA disrespects established political systems and their participants, including Canadians.

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