Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Nothing To Fear But Ourselves

For almost a week now, we've covered many aspects of the NSA leaks controversy, from the unsurprising "revelation" our government is spying on us, through the sloppy and less-than-professional way the story surrounding the NSA leaks was broken in the Guardian and Washington Post.

Unsurprisingly, two of the three members of the media that the leaker Edward Snowden trusted to break his story now appear to be squabbling about who was REALLY responsible for 'discovering' Snowden. Sadly, that kind of selfish and unprofessional behavior merely validates our previous opinion of at least one of the three.

For much of the nation, however, this childish squabbling, and indeed the entire debate over security and liberty is one they seemingly could care less about.

From cameras on nearly every corner, to every phone and most laptops having a camera, for a nation once proud of a President who declared "The only thing we have to fear… is fear itself," we've now become a nation that seems driven by fear, with electronic eyes seemingly everywhere.

As a Pew Poll released on Monday makes clear, most Americans today continue to be generally OK with giving over some of their freedom and privacy to their government, in exchange for a level of security that Americans now routinely demand.

It's not just the government that we're all handing our data over to, though. It's corporate America, who - unlike the military or even the government - often has no rules about how they use or misuse our information.

From online companies like Facebook and Google, to old fashioned brick-and-mortar retailers like Wal-Mart and Target, just about every corporation wants to track nearly everything about what Americans do. And Americans often - far too often - gladly give up our personal information, in exchange for a shiny online trinket, or access to some special song or video.

Yet, when the government tries to get that same information, suddenly, some Americans scream that there are eyes on them everywhere. That reaction is both hypocritical and stupid, since the government will often just buy, trade, or take the info it wants from those corporations, anyway.

The key to settling down the hype is the one President Obama pointed out last Friday, the same issue we mentioned Monday morning, and the same issue Greg Sargent of the Washington Post nailed Monday afternoon: That there can be a balance between giving our information over and living in a perpetual surveillance state.

On giving our information to government, as Sargent notes, that balance can be achieved by refining laws that narrow the scope of information government can obtain, and by bringing greater transparency to existing programs.

On  giving our information to corporations, Rainey Reitman, Activism Director at the Electronic Frontier Foundation noted in a recent interview with blogger Alan Henry there are also ways consumers can rein in their data - including opting out of certain types of advertising.

As you can see, Americans have little reason to fear how our information is being shared unless - as things are now - we're too lazy to be responsible about how we handle that information.