Choose freedom or security

The NSA’s data collection practices sacrifice American liberties.


Infographic by Emily Hayashida/THE CHIMES

Jacqueline Lewis, Writer

The privacy rights of citizens and the reach of government have stood at odds with each other since the founding of the United States of America. The American identity rests in the pursuit of a limited government and significant liberties, yet we as Americans also need governmental stability and reliable national security.


This struggle between personal liberty and government power regained national attention when former contractor employee of the National Security Agency, Edward Snowden, leaked details of the agency’s surveillance of phone data to the news media in June of 2013. In response, the NSA confirmed it collects the phone numbers of calls made and received and how long a call lasts, but claimed it does not monitor the contents of a call.

This past May, a New York court ruled that this bulk collection of phone surveillance data was not protected under the USA Patriot Act as the NSA claimed.

Congress passed legislation ending the collection program in June by barring the collection of phone data in bulk. Still, the process of completely terminating the program requires several phases which will eventually lead to the complete transition out of the program.


However, at the end of this past August, a federal appellate court with a panel of three justices overruled the May decision, which declared the collection activities of the NSA illegal. The court made this decision on the basis that the public interest lawyer, Larry Klayman, who brought the case to court, had no standing. This means he could not prove he was personally affected by the data collection of the NSA or that the NSA collected any of his personal phone data at all.

Since then, within the last few weeks, Klayman added new plaintiffs who used a phone carrier already proven to have given information to the NSA. This gives them standing and allows the case to continue its push through the court.


This case begs the question of what constitutes the proper reach of the government in the personal lives of the citizens it serves. We all want to live in a country with the most reliable form of security, but at what cost?

If the United States of America claims to primarily concern itself with individual liberties and the rights of its citizens, and if it claims to exemplify a working limited government, allowing the government to spy on its own citizens directly controverts that objective. The purpose of government is to serve the people, not to take them down.

Even when given the benefit of the doubt that the purpose of the data collection was indeed to protect its citizens, this still must concern the American people with what they want more — liberty or security. Although stated in a vastly different context than that of a technologically advanced modern America, Benjamin Franklin believed those who sacrifice liberty for a little temporary security deserve neither.

However, the concepts of liberty and security have broader implications for the future of the American identity. This same struggle between the two also permeate into other aspects of America’s political action such as our use of drones and other powerful forms of technology in light of the decline of the war in Iraq.


We must consider these as the beginning of a potential shift in the how the American people view their goals. These new applications of technology in the field of national security provide a platform for further discussion of how we must appropriately apply them without infringing on the rights of American citizens. Personal information has never been so readily available to the government or to the general public as we now use our phones and social media for nearly everything.

Although Benjamin Franklin never encountered cell phones, drones, or social media, his point still stands. Liberty and security still continue as the subject of major debate in the United States, but now it differs due to new technology that allows for a larger amount of available information to be utilized or exploited.

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