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Head to Head: Republicans and Democrats debate privacy rights

Michael Sheridan, UA Young Democrats

Edward Snowden is no traitor. Having the personal fortitude and bravery to blow the lid off of National Security Agency spying overreach should not lead to jail time.

Chelsea Manning is no traitor. Shedding light on illegal government activities and standing up for what you believe in should not end with a 35-year jail sentence.

Edward Snowden. Chelsea Manning. These names have become synonymous with the right to privacy. Americans have become wary of government interference invading their private lives. With the NSA scandal, the U.S. government clearly overstepped its boundaries. Although there is no clearly outlined right to privacy in the Constitution, every citizen has a reasonable expectation of privacy that, unfortunately, the current administration has not always respected.

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American citizens have a right against unwarranted search and seizure enshrined in the Constitution. This right cannot and shall not be infringed. President Barack Obama may be well-intentioned in using the NSA to collect metadata on American citizens, but he cannot justify this violation of the Constitution. Recent allegations by Snowden reveal he tried to complain formally about the NSA spying on Americans before releasing the documents, and his complaints were ignored. This gross lack of respect shows that the government knew what it was doing was wrong and continued to do it anyway.

I am not advocating that the NSA stop monitoring terrorists, but simply that it follow constitutional methods in doing so — namely, getting a court-ordered warrant before spying on American citizens and not spying on citizens without reasonable cause. These safeguards will allow the NSA and CIA to do their jobs to protect us without forcing us to give up our right to privacy.

Starting in 2001, the Bush administration started phone tapping without warrants to monitor terrorist activity. Since the beginning of the program, politicians have been in opposition to it. During the Bush administration, Democrats criticized this activity. Now that a Democrat is in the White House, some of these politicians have suddenly lost their sense of outrage.

This double standard is unacceptable. Violations of privacy are wrong, no matter what party does it. I applaud people like Sen. Bernie Sanders and Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, who has stood up for privacy rights under both administrations. We also applaud Republicans who have called out the Obama administration on this issue, such as Sen. Rand Paul. I wish more Republicans had cared about the issue of privacy when Bush was unconstitutionally spying on Americans, but that might be asking too much of them.

Unfortunately, many of the same Republicans who attack Obama on privacy issues, as they rightly should, and claim the government needs to stay out of people’s lives are also strongly opposed to abortion and gay marriage. If they truly believe in personal liberty and privacy, they should support a woman’s right to make her own healthcare decisions and support marriage equality for all Americans. Republican hypocrisy is real around these issues. They oppose big government — unless it’s for corporate tax subsidies. And they oppose privacy violations — unless they’re targeted at women’s reproductive health.

Both Obama and Republicans need to get better on the issue of privacy. It’s up to voters like us to force the issue.

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Caleb Rhodes, UA College Republicans

In March 2013, James Clapper, the U.S. director of national intelligence, was asked before the Senate Intelligence Committee whether or not the National Security Agency was gathering data on millions of Americans, to which Clapper responded, “No … Not wittingly.”

This was a lie. On June 5, 2013, The Guardian released documents revealing that the NSA collected phone records of millions of Americans. A secret Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court order forced Verizon to give the government information on all telephone calls made by its customers.

Secret courts were issuing secret orders to companies, which forced them to give up information from millions of innocent Americans.

Even more, Bloomberg reported on April 1 that “U.S. intelligence agencies searched the content of emails and other electronic communications of Americans without warrants,” a near direct violation of the Fourth Amendment.

How did a country founded on the principles of liberty come to this point?

Politicians of both parties have failed to stand up for our constitutional rights. The U.S. was founded on the idea that each person has fundamental rights, and one of the most important of these rights is the right to privacy.

Our cellphones are an intimate part of our lives. We send personal messages and pictures to our friends, family and significant others with them and rightfully expect that our privacy will be honored. We are a generation whose lives unfold between two thumbs. We write our schedules, check our bank accounts and use GPS features to find our way around — all with our phones. We must reclaim control of our private lives and hold the government accountable for its actions.

Sen. Rand Paul summed up the government’s blatant disrespect for our privacy best by saying, “What you do on your cellphone is none of their damn business.”

But the government has spent a plethora of time and resources making it its business. In December 2013, the White House issued a report meant to review the actions of these secret FISA courts, the NSA and its data collection. According to that report, titled “Liberty and Security in a Changing World: Report and Recommendations of the President’s Review Group on Intelligence and Communications Technology,” the president essentially encouraged all branches of government to let the data-mining continue with the stipulation that a third party hold the information. The report shows the Obama administration’s failure to see that the problem is not who has the information, but that the information is being held. In fact, in an interview with the Public Broadcasting Service after the NSA documents were released, he fiercely defended the actions of the NSA, calling it “transparent.”

Except the released documents and further actions of the government have proven that the NSA and the secret courts are, in fact, not transparent at all.

Security is an important role of government, but it must never come at the expense of citizens’ rights. We need elected officials who understand that this is an issue and will fight to defend citizens’ rights to privacy. We cannot compromise on this serious issue.

The secret FISA courts must be held accountable through oversight from elected officials. These hearings should have an attorney appointed to advocate for civil liberties. And these changes must be immediate.

For too long, the balance of privacy and security has been tilted too heavily toward security and away from liberty. It is time for Americans to stand up for our unalienable rights. It is imperative that we as young people fight for the rights that we have been given. Our generation faces a choice: Will we continue to accept the status quo? Or will we boldly stand for a change? This coming November, you will make that decision.


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