This morning (June 14), Time Magazine posted an intriguing analysis of the emerging ethos of hacktivism among those of the Gen-X and Millennial generations. These idealists, as the article “The Geeks Who Leak” calls them, hold to the tenet that “information wants to be free, that privacy is sacred and that [they have] a responsibility to defend both ideas.”
As the piece goes on to explain, the U.S. public is mixed in its opinion of the propriety of Edward Snowden’s disclosure, the constitutionality of programs like NSA’s “Prism”, and the trade off between privacy and security. Furthermore, that mixture purportedly breaks down along the age axis.
But should it?
One doesn’t have to dig very far to discover that these and other issues are not about logic or law. American sentiment, especially since 2001, sources in the heart and feelings of the people. Snowden leaked classified documents because he believed the decisions within had not been weighed by the public, who he says hold the real moral compass on such policies. The law hadn’t changed, but his conviction made an exception for him. That loophole of conscience brought to light Prism, a secret information collection program that has been actively trawling telephone and online records for seven years. Not surprisingly, everyone involved is now running to get ahead of the conspiracy lest public opinion should turn ill.
With a little examination of the fourth amendment to the U.S. Constitution, it seems reasonable that the opinion could sway in the days to come. While the word “privacy” cannot be found in the Bill of Rights, the concept is quite prominent in the implications of the phrases “unreasonable searches and seizures” and “the right of the people to be secure in their…papers, and effects.” Few would argue the validity of searching and seizing terrorists and their property, but nearly all would protest a house by house invasion of a neighborhood or city if that was the method taken to hunt for threats. In the online realm, the data of the peaceable and rebellious sits side by side. Does this location of people’s “effects” exempt them from fourth amendment protections?
At the end, the debate boils down to security. The American people aren’t trading in their effects and privacy for nothing. Whether consciously or not, they have considered that the horrors of 9/11, Al Qaeda, and school shootings and decided that the dangers from without the government are greater than from within it. They would rather surrender to an omniscient White House than an unknown future. Strangely enough, Snowden’s exposé may have merely highlighted the public’s decision that he and many others don’t want to accept.