Thursday, June 13, 2013

(Politics) Privacy rights: public in US and UK support violations of their right to privacy

With reports in the last few weeks of the NSA breaching the privacy of millions of Americans as well as the revelation of the Prism program that entailed privacy breaches with the help of a host of tech and internet companies, there has been much discussion about the growth of executive power, the failure of the legislature and the judiciary but not much about what people actually think as it may provide a shock for those among us who favour their right to privacy over security interests.

According to poll published by Pew Research Center, 56% of Americans support the NSA’s monitoring of phone records in the interest of “investigat(ing) terrorism”[1].While there is a “substantial minority” of 41% who would beg to differ, 62% favour the government pursuing threats “even if that intrudes on personal privacy”[2].

It appears that number doesn’t change much when political affiliations are concerned as an incredible 69% of Democrats favour the government threats even at the expense of “personal privacy”, a point that republicans (62%) and independents (59%) also concur with[3].

This trend of the public support of the government investigating threats at the expense of their privacy is not exclusive to the US as the British public also are prepared to have their rights breached in the interest of stifling security threats. According to a poll published by YouGov, only 19% of the British public  feel that privacy rights should be “protected” even when it limits “what the security forces can do  when combating terrorism”[4]While only 19% think that privacy right trump the security interests of the state may worry privacy rights advocates, what might terrify them is the astonishing 42% of the British public feel  that security forces should have more powers than they already have “even if this means the privacy or human rights of ordinary people suffers”[5].

While these polls reveal that most people across both sides of the pond are prepared to see their rights violated in the interests of security, what these polls don’t cover or ask is what the government will do with the information gained from their investigations or even if those “investigations” in question are borne from probable cause or an actual crime.  The polls focus extensively on the question of privacy rights with regard to terrorism rather than what the government or state security forces will do with the information.

There is a long and extensive history in the US of the government targeting individuals it didn’t like or suspected of foul play from civil leaders, including Martin Luther King to public figures of the American political left. Even when considering the use of information gleaned from secret surveillance being used catch or use against suspected terrorist s in court, the evidence is useless as it cannot be used in court because, you’ve guessed it, its secret.  

Another reason why secret obtained information useless, is that the government is often less than forthcoming with how it is obtained as it will reveal a serious breach of rights the US governments is not prepared to disclose in an open court.

In sum, while people may be prepared to have their rights breached in the interest of countering terrorism, the sacrifice may turn out to be pointless as any information extracted through the state monitoring it citizens on a large scale gives suspected party a way to escape prosecution as it at once undermines the very rights the government are trying to protect while empowering the very people it claims it is trying to stop.

[1] Pew Research Center, 2013, Majority Views NSA Phone Tracking as Acceptable Anti-terror Tactic,
[2] Ibid
[3] Ibid
[5] Ibid

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