National Surveillance Agency: Privacy or Protection

January 16, 2014
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As a young female adult who lives away from intimate family members and has the ability to use technology to connect with those family members and friends, I can see the negative effects of the National Security Agency’s domestic surveillance. However, I will try to the best of my ability to summarize the argument for domestic surveillance and how its supporters view it.


To begin, I would like to cover the definition of Domestic Surveillance. Domestic, as an political definition, is existing or occurring inside a particular country; not foreign or international. The word surveillance is of French origin “sur” meaning over, and “veillier” meaning watch. Along with the meaning “overwatch”, surveillance has a number of other ways it is able to be defined. It can be defined as a close watch kept over someone or something. Being a rather general definition, this signifies that the subject is simply being closely observed. Another was as followed; the act of carefully watching someone or something, especially in order to prevent a crime or misdemeanor. This definition implies that surveillance is done to ward off criminals. Yet an additional definition of the expression surveillance would be to keep close observation, especially of a suspected spy, criminal or terrorist. (Merriam Webster-Surveillance) The word spy is another word that is associated with the NSA. Spying is to observe or search for something. This definition is not biased about whether spying is good or bad. A final definition is to watch secretly usually for hostile purposes. (Merriam Webster- Spy)

Opposing Perspective:

The director of the NSA, General Keith B. Alexander, explains that the NSA is trying to defend against terrorist attacks through cyberoffense, cyberdefense, and the “tapping” of domestic phone calls. As the command of the U.S. military’s Cyber Command, General Alexander has given a number of speeches to the public about what the NSA is trying to accomplish. “The way we’ve explained it to the American people,” he said, “has gotten them so riled up that nobody told them the facts of the program and the controls that go around it.” (Sanger, NY Times) General Alexander explained that the NSA does not research where it isn’t necessary. He said that the NSA only keeps surveillance where it thinks is necessary to defend against attacks and/or security breaches. The Domestic Surveillance Directorate (DS) branch of the NSA states that their mission is to collect, process, and store U.S. citizen data for the good of the Nation. The DS is trying to protect U.S. citizens’ information from aliens and terrorists. Their motto is “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” which implies that the DS is only collecting information that is beneficial to the security of the Nation and it’s citizens. To further protect the citizens of the United States, the government has funded the building of the $1.5 Billion dollar Utah Data Center (code-named Bumblehive). This is the center for a majority of the NSA tracking data. During an interview with the national security expert, Buck Sexton, Sexton stated that “NSA derived data has officially been used in a criminal prosecution” (The Blaze). Sexton believes that the NSA, as bad as it may seem in the eyes of the public, has helped prosecute criminals and ward of acts of terrorism in the nation.

A debater (posted as Anonymous at stated that the NSA exists for our safety, not to infringe upon our constitutional rights. The anonymous poster also states that the NSA and our civil rights can co-exist. It doesn’t have to be one or the other, national security vs. civil liberties. Several other nameless posters made the point that if you have nothing hide, you have nothing to worry about. One unsourced individual posted “would you rather have the risk of terrorist attacks on this country again or have the government know about that girl you were asking to the movies”. The debate subject was titled Do the benefits of domestic surveillance outweigh the harms fifty-one percent of those who participated in the discussion voted yes, the other forty-nine percent believed that the harms were more effective and outweighed the benefits.

The PayPal co-founder Max Levchin, expressed to the press that the NSA is there purely to protect U.S. citizens. Levchin says “that the NSA is broadly classified as evil” and presented that “to classify a body of government that is designed to figure out what might hit us next and prevent it, throwing them into an evil bucket is just thoughtless.” (Techcrunch) Josh Constine, the writer of Techcrunch’s The NSA Isn’t Evil, It’s Trying to Protect Us, voiced his distaste for the NSA’s surveillance program, but admitted that we shouldn’t blindly hate the NSA. Constine knows that Levchin brings up some valid points, and that he himself doesn’t even know how much good the NSA has done.

In a New York Times debate column, Eric Posner said that when people complain that it is an invasion of their privacy, and that the government has no right to look at that information, they are showing weakness. We give the government a lot of our personal information anyway, “we seem to have gotten used to the idea that an Internal Revenue Service knows our finances, or that an employee of a government hospital knows our medical history, or that social workers (if we are on welfare) know our relationships with family members, or that public school teachers know about our children’s abilities and personalities.” (Posner) He also goes on to say that the NSA receives the phone and email record of almost four-hundred million people each month, the chances that each of us are going to be looked at is miniscule. Posner also said that people believe that the NSA can collect this information and use for blackmail against officials and critics, but that in the past twelve years (the NSA has been collecting phone, email, and EMS data for approximately seven years), no such incident has occurred at a national level. Eric Foust believes that the NSA exists because it works, and that we asked for it to do what it’s doing now. News stories from 2002 show that the public was demanding the intelligence community “do more” to analyze information and thwart any future terrorist attacks.” (Foust) After the 9/11 attacks, U.S. citizens demanded that our government do more to protect us from anymore terrorist attacks, the government improved airport security ten-fold and began using the NSA to watch for imminent terrorist attacks. According to Foust, the government has done plenty to protect us and U.S. citizens should be thankful that the NSA has taken action to ward of terrorist attacks.

Supporting Perspective:

To represent the side of the argument that is against Domestic Surveillance, I would like to present the subject of Edward Snowden. Edward Snowden, a former NSA official that exposed confidential information about the NSA, stated to the press “Today, no telephone in America makes a call without leaving a record with the NSA. Today, no Internet transaction enters or leaves America without passing through the NSA's hands.” (The Guardian) Snowden leaked secrets and valuable information about the NSA to the public through the Guardian, a United Kingdom daily newspaper. These secrets created controversy with other countries that U.S. citizens have contact with. Because of Snowden and Glenn Greenwald (a Guardian journalist), the world has become aware of the fact that the NSA has been spying on the public. Greenwald, in one of his first articles about the NSA, used information from documents received from Snowden to tell the public what the National Security Agency is doing. In his article Greenwald said the NSA “requires Verizon on an ‘ongoing, daily basis’ to give the NSA information on all telephone calls in its systems, both within the US and between the US and other countries." (The Guardian) The NSA does not listen to calls, but rather collects all the information from the calls. The information that Verizon is required to collect is the person making the call, the person they're calling, where both parties are located, and the duration of the call. This collection of information is called metadata. Metadata can be collected from anyone that is using a Verizon tower.

But it isn’t just cell phone calls and emails that the NSA is keeping an eye on, according to the Data Center Journal, the NSA is also spying on Electronic Medical Records and the Smart Grid. The Smart Grid is “a developing network of new technologies, equipment, and controls working together to respond immediately to our 21st century demand for electricity.” (Department of Energy) The smart grid also collects information about the consumer for example; data on how much energy they use and what they are using the most. (Wiki Smart Grid) An Electronic Medical Record or EMR is a “digital version of a paper chart that contains all of a patient’s medical history from one practice.” ( The NSA has unlimited access to all the private medical reports that are recorded on EMR systems, because of it’s ability to observe technological data.

On the debate site that was used previously in this paper, another un-named poster, brought up the point that the NSA’s domestic surveillance is a violation of the fourth amendment. The fourth amendment says; the right of the people 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. (Wikipedia, fourth amendment) A summarization of the amendment states as follows; it prohibits unreasonable search and seizures without search warrants that are obtained with an suspicion of probable cause. According to one poster, the NSA is tracking our phone calls, emails and medical records. And the only probable cause they have is that a handful of people out of millions of citizens are terrorists. Information is power, this is the title of one the debate’s contributors for the side that believed the benefits do not outweigh the harms. “The NSA is not effective in protecting the people and it is only hurting the privacy.” ( This individual made this point firmly believing, along with many others, that the NSA has done more harm than good by spying on citizens. Randy Barnett, a Wall Street Journalist and professor of constitutional law had very biased yet factual points about why the NSA is unconstitutional. He said “rather than seizing the private papers of individual citizens, the NSA and CFPB programs instead seize the records of the private communications companies with which citizens do business under contractual "terms of service." These contracts do not authorize data-sharing with the government” (Barnett).


The National Security Agency has made front page news dozens of times in the past few months. When Edward Snowden revealed that the NSA, an agency he used to work for, he was punished by the government and his citizenship was revoked. But because Snowden revealed the secrets of the agency, U.S. citizens became aware that their privacy is possibly being violated. The NSA was created to prevent terrorist attacks in the U.S. and has been successful an unspecified amount of times, however, news articles and papers have been portraying it as evil, deceitful and invasive. Before writing this paper, my negative opinion of the NSA was very strong and biased, but I believe that is because I was unaware of the facts. I still believe that Domestic Surveillance is an invasion of privacy, but terrorists are a real threat and we don’t have a lot of options that can protect us from terrorist threat. While composing this essay I have come to an almost neutral position. I now understand that the NSA is doing whatever it can to protect us, even if it means violating our right to privacy. The NSA has stopped terrorists and captured criminals but, because it was revealed by a traitor to the Agency, it has created a new fear and a new paranoia in the hearts of the U.S. citizens.

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WeissNo23 said...
Apr. 25, 2016 at 2:53 pm
@EmilyDee do you have a works cited?
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