In an article by Glenn Greenwald, the man who originally reported on the illegal activities of the NSA leaked to him by Edward Snowden, he summarizes the heart of the story in one sentence. “Numerous NSA documents we’ve already published demonstrate that the NSA’s goal is to collect, monitor and store every telephone and internet communication that takes place inside the US and on the earth.”
Such an initiative directly impacts our lives, as the majority of our communications now take place in some electronic form. Since we now know that our personal communication is not necessarily as private as we believed it to be, this can have a negative impact because it creates self-oppression.
When we use social media sites such as Facebook, we can choose not only what we would and would not like others to see, but who can see our posts and who can’t. This is different from the government storing every email you send and every phone call you make. The danger in this lies in the storage of that information. The storage of that information allows the government to go back and search through this data at any time they choose and for whatever reason without a subpoena.
This knowledge creates self-oppression. While not everyone will react this way, many people will think twice about what they say or type into an email, since they know that the NSA can go back and read what they have written at any time they choose and for whatever reason they choose.
We cannot allow this kind of self-oppression to take place. We must stop ourselves from second guessing what we say or type in an email just because we know that the NSA might read what we have written at some point. And might is a key word here, as the NSA may never read a single email you have written. However, we have a natural tendency to second guess our words when we know that someone is storing all of our electronic communications and have the ability to access that data at any time they choose.
While these NSA policies do not directly violate our first amendment rights, it certainly has a squelching effect on them. I do not believe that the government is using their capabilities with the intent of creating a squelching effect on free speech, but it is certainly a side effect of these policies, regardless of whether or not that was the NSA’s direct intent.
We should not allow the possibility that the NSA might read something we have written at some point in the future to create a suppression of our true thoughts and beliefs. Second guessing our words demonstrates an acceptance of the death of the free speech. While the first amendment may be struggling to survive, I do not believe it is dead yet. If you value your free speech, do not adopt an attitude of complacency and succumb to this fear which creates a self-imposed oppression of free speech.