National Security vs Individual Privacy in the Big Data Era
This post is about the rights of a now famous arrest warrant fugitive, and about each of our rights to maintain private electronic data.
The Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution guarantees rights to all private citizens:
...to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.This important amendment arose, in part, as a response to abuses of power during the American Revolution associated with the reviled "writ of assistance"; a general search warrant that allowed the King's soldiers to toss your home with or without reason.
Fast forward to the 21st Century, which opened with unprecedented foreign terrorist attacks on our soil, and we see that our "papers and effects" have been digitized. Most of us now have fairly robust electronic profiles as opposed to actual "papers and effects".
Now, 13-years into the e-Century, and a dozen years after the fateful 9/11 attacks on New York and Washington, the federal government wants, and apparently gets, direct access to the Big Data of our private lives. This access has been granted in the name of national security and is backed by the Patriot Act, and other powerful national security-based federal laws.
The extradition and federal prosecution of Edward Snowden will test these opposing concepts of liberty and national security in the digital age. Like the cases of Julian Assange and Aaron Swartz, Snowden's revelations about the federal government's snooping is becoming a digital clarion call.
Snowden, a former NSA contractor, made some significant disclosures about what the NSA has been doing, to the Guardian newspaper in London earlier in the month. The feds have been hunting him with an international arrest warrant ever since for violations of the Espionage Act.
Apparently, Mr. Snowden is now on the move, internationally, as in Jason Bourne style. Only this is real, not fiction. Once the United States has Mr. Snowden either extradited or rendered back to the US, he will face criminal charges in federal court in Virginia for leaking the NSA's digital secrets to the media.
Since its inception in 1917 up to the current administration, Presidents have only charged 3 individuals with violating the Espionage Act. President Obama has prosecuted 6 individuals under the Act.
What does this tell us about the balance between our rights to have our data secure from the prying eyes of the government, and the governments duty to protect our shores from invasion? Can both interests be served simultaneously?