My cell phone works for the government, and there is nothing that I can do about it.
Some backstory: with the exception of the 39 books that have found a temporary home on the Ikea desk that occupies the corner of my room opposite my bedframe, I am virtually useless without a Wi-Fi connection, or at least 4G phone service. My smartphone wakes me up in the morning, my Nook lets me dissect Emerson essays in pitch-black darkness and my laptop alerts me when Gary Busey punches a Delta Airlines employee.
As it turns out, Internet-capable devices have been traitors all along, and some have been reporting my personal history to the National Security Agency behind my back for five years now without my knowledge or consent, in what seems to be direct violation of the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment. If you’re in your twenties you should be horrified, as the web has morphed overnight into the American government’s most powerful tool to crush the dissenting opinions of young, college-aged people in this country. How more of us didn’t see this coming is beyond me.
For the uninformed, the NSA’s PRISM program began in 2007 as an extension of the Bush Administration’s famed warrantless wiretapping under the protective umbrella of the human rights-torching Patriot Act. According to their sources, our nation’s most powerful security force must have been having trouble getting warrants to secretly monitor and gather internet data on “enemy combatants” the legal way, so the NSA allegedly began pulling some strings at a few tiny companies like Facebook, Google, and Verizon for their customer data. And by “pulling some strings” I mean, “forcing them to comply with demands.” And by “forcing them to comply with demands,” I mean, “sidestepping the Fourth Amendment that guarantees our rights against ‘unwarranted searches and seizures’ by establishing secret courts that technically can deny the NSA their appeal for data but have never once actually denied their inquires in over 1,000 requests.”
The Agency is also building a top-secret storage fortress in Utah to house the servers they’ll need to actually maintain data on virtually every single Internet-active American. That felt insane to even type.
Besides the blatant unconstitutionality and sheer George Orwell-iness of it all, what bothers me most about the entire ordeal is the fact that I have quite literally no idea how anyone my age can really get away from using a traceable form of communication in today’s day and age. We’ve been backed into a corner here, raised from birth to build potato cannons from online instructions and debate Joe Strummer’s opinions on anarchy from our bedrooms on Facebook Messenger. I’ve operated some form of social networking account since 2005, back when MySpace ruled the proverbial roost. I’ve been broadcasting foolish comments to the public since then. How many of us were debating murder on Xanga accounts even prior to that? Expressing idiotic sympathy for Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold as an immature act of rebellion on their LiveJournal homepage in 2002?
Whether you’re concealing anything or not, openly cataloguing the daily behavioral patterns of American citizens is an upsetting prospect. In its essence, PRISM is storing your everyday habits and patterns in order to better hunt down anyone communicating with possible terrorists overseas. With the amount of data that’s already been stored, the NSA most likely knows more about your daily schedule than you do. It’s long been reported that Android smartphones send your daily data usage back to Google each day, and a by-product of said program is that Google quite literally knows when you sleep.
Maybe you don’t have anything to hide. But perhaps your mother, father, spouse or sibling does. Maybe using the web to organize a protest sends the NSA to your sister’s door, rather than yours. If you’re my age, you most likely conduct every major transaction of your life online, from buying books every few months to announcing relationship status changes. Spying of this scale implies that our government may be looking for more than members of Al Qaeda or Hezbollah sympathizers. We have given the government the ability to immediately track the lives of not only ourselves, but also our loved ones in real time. Whether it’s actually true or not, cataloguing the private communication data of every web-using American implies that anyone looking to change the status quo is unwelcome within the borders of the United States. We will soon lose our best and brightest if they fear posting their thoughts online.
I am floored that my generation has been foolish enough to allow any group or company to catalogue our lives each and every day in any fashion whatsoever. While we haven’t quite known the extent to which our lives have been combed over until this week, we have always known that Internet service providers and third-party websites have been able to track our every move since the dawn of the World Wide Web. As we graduate and get older, we must fight for transparency and the rights to our own data, tooth-and-nail.
Despite being totally cool with my Internet history, I now feel imprisoned by each piece of information that I’ve loaded onto my web browser. I refuse to allow my children to grow up like this. Personal browsing anonymity and encryption should be a right extended to all Americans, whether through the Constitution’s Fourth Amendment, a new Amendment, or merely public demand. As the generation most steeped in Internet culture, we Millennials have the power to demand this from our government, or create this technology ourselves.
America remains a country committed to living a life of public and blatant hypocrisy, at once harping to its youth about liberty and equality whilst turning its nose at institutionalized racism and a level of wealth inequality that eclipses all but two developed countries in the modern world. America’s children have grown up in a system that has told them that they have a right to stand up for their own beliefs and state their opinions loudly without fear of retribution from governing bodies. The establishment of a secret surveillance program that rivals some of the most repressive regimes in the contemporary world sends a different message entirely: dissenting opinions will no longer be tolerated.
The government is rummaging through Facebook data. They are not targeting your parents. They are targeting you.