Two weeks ago, in my politics group at school, we had a discussion about the NSA concerning the newly revealed spying tactics and the tapping of French phones.
Someone mentioned that the revelations about the NSA depict a world that resembles a bit like that of George Orwell’s 1984. I remember that when I first read the book many years ago, I thought the premise of such a society was ridiculous and was concerned about a government with such an extreme amount of control. However, now, what’s ironic is how it seems to have come to that point in reality, putting us in the unenviable position of the unassuming blindly-trusting citizens oblivious to the extent of the government’s reach.
Many of my American classmates were saying that this level of espionage is reasonable and is to be expected considering all countries spy on each other. In my opinion, the scale of this surveillance is very broad ranging and shocking. Additionally, I feel that it may not be very practical for the government to have such a large set of data from which to try and weed out the important pieces. However, there are those who believe that with even a one in a million chance of success, if that one hit would save lives, it is all worth the while. So although my classmates seemed to be of two minds about recent allegations related to NSA surveillance and the tradeoff between security worries and privacy concerns, on balance my classmates came down in favor of increased security against terrorism. The views of this small sample of my classmates is consistent with that of the broader American population. A recent survey conducted by the Washington Post showed that 57 percent of Americans are in favor of the government pursuing and investigating terrorist threats as thoroughly as possible even at the expense of a certain amount of personal privacy.
I find it interesting that in France the perception towards this trade off is one of scorn. Even though in France they have had a number of recent attacks, like the bombs in the metro almost a year ago, their attitude in the media towards terrorism is not the same as the one of extreme terror it often is back home. Granted, 9/11 caused a deep shock and had repercussions on a global scale. But the French are aghast at the thought of losing their individual privacy for a supposed sense of greater security. If my host family and French teachers are any indication, the French are shocked and even a little insulted to have been investigated in such an intimate manner.
However, the way a majority of my American classmates view this issue is that most people have nothing to hide from the government. In that case, what’s the harm in a little extra security? As a result of 9/11, my generation has a skewed/almost exaggerated fear of terrorism due, in part, to the fact that the consequences of 9/11 and terrorism surround us: the media coverage of the struggles across the globe have put it solidly in the public consciousness and constantly tightening TSA regulations in the airport serve as obvious reminders. This fear is almost innate in most of my generation and frankly, our lives are already so exposed, compared to those of past teenagers, thanks to the internet. Judging from my classmates, people feel like this internet peephole for the government is the small price necessary to pay to avoid further terrorist scares on American soil. To me, it’s almost ironic that we Americans are scared to the point that we are so quick to give up our privacy in a country where liberty and freedom from an overpowering government has always been a core tenet.
These founding principles have carried over into our world image; the U.S is often viewed as this global defendant of civil liberty. Prior to the release of the information concerning the extent to which the NSA intrudes into the internet and cellular activity of American citizens and political leaders the world over, a poll conducted by the PEW Research Center on citizens from 39 different countries revealed that America’s reputation as a country that respects individual rights was going strong. However, by sharing the NSA documents, Edward Snowden opened the eyes of the world to the reality taking place behind closed doors and exposed the sad truth that there simply doesn’t seem to be line which the government won’t cross. In addition to gaining intimate access to prominent world leaders, the U.S initially adopted a position in which they denied everything until they were faced with evidence to the contrary. For example, when this all first came to light, German chancellor Angela Merkel, inquired as to whether or not her private phone was among those targeted by the NSA, and was reassured that it was not. Given that this initial statement has been proven false begs the question, who to trust?
Is there even a choice? Most Americans seem perfectly happy to give up a sliver of privacy rights for their own protection. And if the chancellor of Germany, by no means a naïve woman, was tapped unawares, what choice do the common people have but to acquiesce?
Like it or not, “Big Brother” is watching and you better believe it. Welcome to 1984.