It appears the European Union, not the United States, is about to lead the world in protecting digital privacy. Shouldn’t it be the other way around? Recent draft proposals from the European Parliament’s Committee on Civil Liberites, Justice, and Home Affairs would do the polar opposite of what America’s government is aiming for. Said legislation would enforce end-to-end encryption on digital communications. The proposal would also make back-doors, secret ways for law enforcement to access private message data, illegal.
The Current State of Unconstitutional Search and Seizure
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.- The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America
The Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States of America makes “unreasonable searches and seizures” tantamount to being illegal. In fact, the type of wiretapping and digital snooping the American government is constantly engaged in, as proven by several WikiLeaks documents, is completely unconstitutional. Our digital privacy should be protected by the Constitution.
We, as Americans, have a right for security in our persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures. Any breach on that security is supposed to require a warrant, issued upon probable cause, and explicitly describing where the search is to take place along with the persons or things to be searched.
That security isn’t happening, especially when it comes to digital privacy. The National Security and Central Intelligence Agencies are continuing to come up with new and exciting ways to violate our privacy, from trying to hack our iPhones to snooping on our wireless routers. The Federal Bureau of Investigation isn’t innocent, either, as it periodically insists tech companies such as Apple provide it with back-doors past the encryption of our devices.
What’s the State of Privacy in Europe?
Article 7 of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights, just like the United States Constitution, provides EU citizens a right to personal privacy, as well as privacy in their family lives and at home. That privacy, the EU realizes, applies to digital privacy as well as physical.
The EU’s charter is much more modern and more often elaborated on than America’s Constitution or its Amendments. The European Union laid out its charter in 2000, and the legislating body continually explains what it means in current society. Here’s an example.
In Article 7 of the EU’s Charter of Fundamental Rights, the language simply states, “Everyone has a right to respect for his or her private and family life, home and communications.” The draft proposal from the Committee on Civil Liberties, Justice, and Home Affairs explains this principle of confidentiality to apply to “current and future means of communication.” That includes telephone calls (including over the internet), internet access, instant messaging applications, email, and messaging provided through social media.
The Needs of the Many
It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.- Jeremy Bentham, A Fragment of Government
Jeremy Bentham once wrote, “It is the greatest good to the greatest number of people which is the measure of right and wrong.” Bentham was presumably citing the work of Joseph Priestley. However, Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan distilled this down into much easier language to digest. “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”
I would argue that the one of the needs of the many is to have its privacy and confidentiality protected at all costs. The many, in this case, incorporate all Americans; the few include the intelligence operatives and law enforcement officers who are tasked with protecting the nation. Perhaps they feel they need the ability to place every American under surveillance at a moment’s notice, without any accountability or oversight.
Those “needs of the few” should not outweigh the “needs of the many.” The many need to feel secure in their persons, thoughts, and communications. They need to be certain they’re entitled to disagree with the government, peacefully, without fear of being detained or discriminated against because of those thoughts and beliefs. That cannot take place in a country that allows, even encourages, the sort of unconstitutional search and seizure the law enforcement and intelligence communities are almost continuously engaged in. In short, digital privacy should be protected, not constantly threatened by the government.
Why Isn’t the Land of the Free Leading The Charge for Digital Privacy?
America has traditionally been referred to as the “land of the free and the home of the brave.” Why, then, isn’t America leading the world in protecting freedom? Europe, which in history was often oppressive and tyrannical, is now showing itself to be much more protective of rights and freedoms than America, a nation founded on the principle of freedom.
America, I propose, has lost its focus. Our society is now one based on paranoia, and our elected officials and national security interests are reflecting that. I’m not sure when this downwards spiral into persistent surveillance began. Perhaps it had its origins in the terrorist attacks of 9/11, but it’s very possible that our paranoia began even earlier than that.
We, as Americans, need to quit caving into our fears and paranoia. We need to follow the example of Europe for a change, and resume being fiercely protective of our rights to digital privacy. Agencies like the CIA, FBI and NSA should be held accountable for protecting the country, to be sure, but not at the expense of violating the Constitution that made this nation great in the first place.