The Crimson White

Why you should care about civil liberties and privacy

Kyle Simpson

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The battle over perhaps one of the most consequential issues of our time is constantly being waged, and every one of us is in the crossfire. What “privacy” means has changed rapidly over the past few decades, and in the age of the Internet and big data, it seems like governments and private companies are taking more liberties with the privacy of citizens than ever before.

A private company, like Google, Facebook, or Apple, turning over private data so that criminals and terrorists can be caught seems very reasonable, right? A minimal forfeiture of our rights doesn’t seem so bad if it protects innocent people from harm. That reasoning is why things like the Patriot Act, passed in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attacks, were broadly supported, and the warning signs went mostly ignored as privacy rights slowly crumbled.

Independence and self-reliance, like it or not, are part of the fabric of the American identity like perhaps nowhere else on earth, and valuing privacy rights seems to be a logical continuation of those values. Since the Patriot Act, however, it seems that these privacy rights have fallen by the wayside. This year, the federal government and Apple had a well-publicized fight over encryption that could potentially have far-reaching and permanent consequences. Last week, Uber revealed that it has shared the data over 13 million users with government agencies, saying in a press conference, “In many cases they send blanket requests without explaining why the information is needed, or how it will be used.” Police departments all over the United States have begun to use license plate scanners on patrol cars and intersection cameras, making fears of creating a database that knows where everyone is, has been, and is going pretty realistic. 

Revelations in 2013 that the NSA and related agencies regularly collect the data of private citizens opened eyes to the widespread nature of data-collection, and reports keep coming. Unfortunately, it has become impossible to count the number of reports of companies and governments collecting huge amounts of data from regular people without the need for warrants. It may seem like it’s not a huge deal—why should you care if you have nothing to hide? Well, potential consequences ranging from the (assuredly happening) targeted marketing creepily knowing exactly what you want to buy to a potential Minority Report-like society make these privacy issues more important than you think.

I don’t actually believe that big government or power-hungry corporations are on their way to turning our society into an Orwellian nightmare anytime soon. I do however believe that its important for citizens to fight for their civil liberties, and I worry that too many people don’t care about these issues. The protection of civil liberties is the reason why governments and societies exist, when you get down to it, and without them we have nothing—so they’re definitely worth fighting for.

Kyle Simpson is a junior majoring in biology. His column runs biweekly.

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Why you should care about civil liberties and privacy