The Internet is Yours, So Protect It

Internet generation, we need to talk. This National Security Agency problem is your problem. These recent NSA leaks are your leaks. Think about it. Who uses digital communications the most? Who visits the most websites? Who texts the most, chats the most, and tweets the most? It’s not your parents, and it’s definitely not your grandparents. No, the answer is inarguably you. You do those things; you rely on them; you live through them. You are the internet community; sorry older folks, but you’re just the guests (though you shouldn’t put up with this either). So for Christ’s sake my fellow Millennials, wake up!

For those of you who have not been following the news much over the summer, this May an NSA contractor named Edward Snowden took it upon himself to leak a massive amount of confidential documents to the Guardian. He claimed to have done so to spark public dialogue on the matter of ever-expanding U.S. surveillance, and sparked it he has. Last Friday, Harvard Law School’s own Yochai Benkler opined on the issue, declaring in a Guardian op-ed that, with the NSA, “anything short of root-and-branch reconstruction will be serving weak tea to a patient with a debilitating auto-immune disease.” Benkler came to this conclusion after explaining that, as revealed by Snowden’s leaks, U.S. intelligence has lied to both Congress and the courts on matters of surveillance, all while continually expanding its own power to digitally spy on post-9/11 America. The NSA’s systematic overreach and apparent disregard for privacy, again exposed primarily by Snowden’s whistleblowing, has even gotten the Director of National Intelligence James Clapper to acknowledge the need for public discussion. And alongside Clapper is Dennis Saylor, a federal judge who works in overseeing the NSA and who now argues for the official declassification of certain court rulings related to the surveillance debate.

What led Snowden to disclose what he did, what led him to go against the most powerful government on Earth, is the simple fact that the NSA is spying on us, and is doing so on a chillingly vast scale. Maybe, as they insist, they are not directly spying on us, so much as collecting virtually all of our online data and storing it in bulk for potential spying later. But that still should make most any internet user uncomfortable. In fact, it should make them outraged.

This brings me back to my fellow younger Americans. You’ve grown up with the internet, developed alongside it, and stored a significant amount of your lives on it. And now you know that they, the NSA, are collecting your stuff, your information—not rightfully theirs, but rightfully yours. If any generation should be most offended and threatened by this massive privacy breach, it should thus be your own. Maybe if the NSA were opening all snail mail, photocopying the contents within, and then sending it on its way, maybe then the major responsibility for outrage and action would be placed on the more aged groups of our population. But that’s not what the NSA is doing—or it is, but it is not doing it to physical letters; it is doing it to digital ones. And that, again, is young folks' territory.

So get mad. Over the summer, through the Guardian’s continued publication of the leaks, Snowden has been telling you (and is still telling you, as the leaks have yet to dry up) that virtually everything you do and say in the digital world is being collected and stored. And it’s happening for no reason. Well, you are told it’s happening to fight terrorists, to protect Americans and the like. But last I checked you are not terrorists. In fact, you’re not even suspected terrorists. And so just as you would not accept the police bursting into your home and photographing all of its contents without a warrant, you should not accept this. There really is no difference between the two, except that one is much less visible because it is much more digital. In both instances, though, you are having your privacy squashed in the name of your safety, a compromise you should never accept. Would the police, in such hypothetical, warrantless home photo shoots, probably catch some dangerous criminals? Of course they would. They’d collect and store photos of meth labs and dog fighting rings and more. But would you think that justified their weekly entry into your home, again without a warrant, to sift through all your possessions? Of course you wouldn’t. You would say that’s what warrants are for; that’s why we have courts and the rule of law and the Constitution. You would tell them to get the hell out of your home because they had no right to be there, and you would be right.

Well, you need to do the same for your digital home, because the NSA is invading that one. So defend your digital privacy, internet generation, because it’s your world that’s most threatened by these abuses, not your parents’.

Tyler VanValkenburg’16, a Crimson editorial writer, lives in Lowell House.