Tap, tap, tap… The government’s knocking on the door to privacy

October 23, 2010 — by Michael Lee

Imagine yourself in the safety and privacy of your own home. You’re typing an e-mail to your friend in San Francisco about your first couple of weeks at Saratoga High.

Now consider the fact that you could be sending your e-mail to someone other than your friend. Some other person, with the right tools, could be monitoring, or “wiretapping,” that supposedly private message.

That might make you think twice about hitting the send button.

This situation is not far from reality. National security and law enforcement officials can require communication services—such as as Facebook and Yahoo Mail—to provide unencrypted (readable) messages for the government. These agencies supposedly use these messages to monitor criminals and suspected terrorists.

This would seem justified in the alleged efforts to stop crime, but there is a small problem. In the process of monitoring potentially criminal communication, government officials have the ability to invade the privacy of any person who communicates over the Internet. Anything transmitted over the Internet is fair game. This ranges from a Facebook status update to an e-mail between friends.

Despite the uses in potentially tracking criminal activity and stopping catastrophes like 9/11, wiretapping should be lawfully limited. Wiretapping stops relatively few crimes compared to the excessive numbers of personal messages intercepted. Both lawful and unofficial wiretapping remove the privacy from online communication.

In addition to the invaded e-mails and instant messages of the general public, the government can, has and will monitor certain people more than others, most notably those of Islamic faith. On multiple occasions federal judges have found the government guilty for the unwarranted, unjustified wiretapping of blameless Muslim societies and individuals. This is not only unnecessary monitoring of innocents, but also segregation and stereotyping based on religion.

The simplest, most effective solution to this privacy problem is to prohibit all forms of wiretapping that do not involve serious crimes. These lawful limits would need to be carefully enforced. Only then could citizens use the versatile technology of the Internet without fear of someone intercepting their personal information.

Only then could you be guaranteed to send that e-mail to your friend—and only your friend.

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