Big Brother and Government Overreach – Conservative Article
At present, the American government can access any information, from any citizen, at any time. Anything you’ve ever posted, messaged, photographed, your location history, is up for grabs. What occurs in the digital realm, never gets deleted.
This all started with the Patriot Act (the name should have been a dead giveaway). A simply horrendous bill, built upon the politicisation of fear. Initially, it had been written and then shelved; they knew full well it wouldn’t get past Congress. Then 9/11 happened.
The modern-day Pearl Harbour shocked the Western world to its core and the Patriot Act passed without issue. Within this bill are direct contraventions of due judicial process: the burden of proof, innocence until proven guilty, and so on. Let’s have a couple of examples:
- Section 213: The government does not have to present evidence as to the guilt of a subject. Nor does the government have to notify the individual being monitored. All they need is ‘probable cause’ or ‘relevancy’. Well, ‘relevancy’ turned out to be over 300 million Americans.
- Section 215: The FBI can force anyone, to turn over records on their clients. Libraries, pharmacies, social media websites, & phone companies. Again, without proving probable cause.
Clearly, this flips the conventional nature of a warrant on its head; a specific thing from a specific individual, only ascertained through presenting adequate evidence. Through the veil of ignorance, one would think that this was ripped straight from a Kremlin playbook. This brings me to my next point.
Now, you may love the American government, you may love your own, but this privacy breach does not stop with them. Threatened with not being allowed to operate within a given country, companies such as Facebook may see fit to give up your details to Russia, China, or Hungary, and so on.
This may seem an intractable problem, but it is not. End-to-end encryption can go an incredible distance in protecting the data of everyone. But what is it?
Essentially end-to-end encryption only allows any data transfer to be read at two ends, the devices of the sender and receiver. Not another soul can get access to this message. Not an overreaching government, a hacker, or even the company whose server through which the message passes.
Even Facebook could not see Facebook messages, Apple could not see iMessages, and so on. The only way a third-party could gain access to your data would be to physically possess your device or to install malware on it.
We need to remove the possibility of the immoral transfer of data, not just the practice.
For any relevant company, I feel that this should be mandatory. Both to protect our data, and the companies themselves. They cannot be forced into handing over information they physically cannot access. They, then, cannot be blackmailed by the powers that be.
However, it would be remiss of me not to consider the argument against. That being ’security’.
Well, I do not exactly have to do much, as this turned out to be a lie. In America, mass surveillance has not directly stopped one plot and has saved zero lives. Not a single one. I am astounded that this façade has remained for so long.
Just as a quick adjunct, I would like to see criminal prosecutions of state figures that break the law. Many have lied under oath, committed unconstitutional crimes against hundreds of millions of Americans every day, but no one takes the wrap.
It instills an air of superiority, of untouchability; you don’t need me to explain how this is dangerous for democracy. If there were real costs for breaking the law, the law would be respected. After all, regular civilians can be jailed for a broken ‘tail-light’, a stolen t-shirt, or an ounce of cannabis. Spying on 300+ million people for over a decade? So long as you have the right security clearance, it’s all just sport.
The lessons are thus: retroactive, reactive policy is often poor, (if I am to be generous); and, if I take off my rose-tints, a lesson that — even in one of the greatest democracies to ever exist — those that crave power lurk in the shadows.
In sum, for democracy, our complacency is costly and our vigilance paramount.
Written by Senior Conservative Writer, Alexander Dennis
Point of Information
The government must be our protector, not perpetrator – A Labour Response
This is an incredibly strong and compelling article. The loss of my privacy is a threat that is always in the back of my mind, but something I rarely think about. Now, because of the pandemic, so many of my relationships have become entirely online and if anyone were to access my messages, they would be able to find out a terrifying amount about me.
This article clearly highlights the importance and need to protect the right that people have to privacy. It also shows how fear is manipulated to give governments unprecedented power. Social media and the internet have clearly changed how our society functions and our laws need to be updated to reflect that. Not just in America, but globally as well. Governments need to act, and companies need to listen.
Written by Junior Labour Writer, Freya Jhugroo
Preserve Our Liberties, Preserve Our Democracies – A Liberal Response
Alex’s article is spot-on: uncontrolled government surveillance is hugely dangerous for our democracies. As Alex notes, it gives power-hungry, control obsessed, politicians a legal gateway into authoritarianism. More importantly, though, it also erodes popular trust in the government. We can see the results of his unfold in front of us: Only 20% of Americans can now trust their government to do the right thing. When trust in government dies, so does trust in the democratic systems that uphold the institution. No wonder that America is now considered a flawed democracy, its rankings diminishing every year.
In all fairness, sections of the Patriot Act have now expired, failing to be ratified by Congress. This includes Section 215, which Alex quotes above. Good riddance. As Alex mentions, this has done nothing to help reduce terrorism. A report in 2014 – 13 years after the section’s implementation – states how useless it has been in preventing attacks.
However, we should not be duped into a false sense of security. The US government continues to invade its citizens’ liberties daily. Once Section 215 expired, the House of Representatives rushed to implement the (ironically named) ‘US FREEDOM Act’. Whilst more lenient than Section 215, the FREEDOM Act has re-used its premises, just under a more acceptable guise. A trash heap by any other name would smell just as putrid.
Alongside Alex and Freya, I have to stress how on our guard we need to be. We should be critical of our governments taking forceful measures so soon after a large event, such as 9/11. The terror and sensationalism of the tragedy will fade. Left with us, though, will be the restrictive laws that were crafted from our fears.
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
Hello, I’m Alexander Dennis, and I am going into my third undergraduate year at the University of Exeter. I study Politics & International Relations, with a possible year abroad hanging in the balance. My particular interest in politics really started in early 2016: yes, it was ‘Brexit’. I was at once intrigued, and confused, by something so critical. From that baptism, I have become somewhat addicted to political discussion, intrigued by issues ranging from drugs policy to taxation. So I followed my nose: I applied for a degree in the subject.
Hello, I’m Freya. I am going into my third year at Exeter, studying International Relations and Spanish. My main areas of interest are the environment, societal injustices and foreign affairs.
Politics was a completely taboo subject for me as a young boy. Having lived almost all my life in Brunei and Qatar – two very strict, theocratic autocracies – I was cautious to keep my opinions well-guarded. The smallest negative remark about either country’s governance, for example, would’ve meant deportation for my family and I. Any non-approved political activity, no matter how naïve, had to be kept a secret. It was best not to question at all.