Column: Protection is more important than privacy

On Saturday at 11:59 pm, the National Security Administration (NSA) stopped its controversial practice of collecting metadata and communication records with information limited to phone numbers, times and places. This is a response to a law requiring the NSA to stop its wide ranging surveillance program. (john_a_ward/Flickr)

On Saturday at 11:59 pm, the National Security Administration (NSA) stopped its controversial practice of collecting metadata and communication records with information limited to phone numbers, times and places. This is a response to a law requiring the NSA to stop its wide ranging surveillance program.

Many privacy advocates and technology companies are celebrating the USA’s largest reduction of spying capabilities since the expansion after the Sept. 11 attacks. Though privacy is important, with terrorism threats from multiple organizations, now is not the time to be lowering our country’s security.

The main basis of the debate over metadata rests in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution which protects against unreasonable searches and seizures due to the third party doctrine. This allows the government to access any information voluntarily shared with a third party in order to route communication. Until the Supreme Court rules otherwise, the mass collection of metadata should be considered a wholly appropriate tactic. 

Rumors circulate that the NSA records the content of all phone calls and emails. This is not true as the broad surveillance program that is no longer in place monitored metadata. According to both Edward Snowden, a former NSA analyst, and Kirk Wiebe, a former NSA analysist, the government prefers metadata to the actual content of phone calls. The NSA does not want to know the dirty details people rant about for hours on the phone; it is there to keep people in the United States safe.

Metadata revealed social aptitude, sleep patterns and sometimes even religious practices through patterns in call histories. The average person does not have to worry about the metadata’s revealing nature. The NSA is not interested in the private details of the average American. With many threats standing against the country, the NSA’s priority is preventing further casualties from terrorism.

The attacks on Sept. 11 prompted the creation of the broad surveillance program with the goal of preventing further attacks. The recent attacks in Paris, for which the Islamic State claims responsibility, was a startling reminder that terrorism is still a threat in the Western World. ISIS has claimed that it has operatives in the United States ready to attack; they specified interest in taking action against New York City and Washington D.C.

Other terrorist organizations, like al Qaeda, still threaten our safety. The threat of terrorism is no less significant than it was in the wake of Sept. 11, but due to the disconnecting capabilities of time, we have forgotten how crucial it is for the government to continue preventative measures. 

The new law that ordered an end to the NSA’s broad surveillance program prevents the NSA and law enforcement agencies from collecting telephone records in bulk. Now, a court order to telecommunication companies is needed to monitor specific people’s call records. The new process is slow which puts people at risk. 

This transformation also alters the tactic’s goals. The process used to attempt to detect possible risks by analyzing patterns in bulk data. With the requirement of warrants to receive access to the data, there has to be an already apparent suspect in mind to research. This may allow for threats, that the government could have spotted, to go unnoticed.

Saturday’s loss of broad surveillance has undeniably made our country less secure. The concern for privacy was a key factor in the push to end metadata collection. However, people have demonized an attempt to protect the country. This is a display of improper priorities. The most important goal for the country, for both government and people, should be to prevent further casualties. In recognizing this, people should encourage government protection rather than argue about the analysis of personal information.


Alyssa Luis is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus opinion section. She can be reached via email at alyssa.luis@uconn.edu.