The National Security Agency has a new base in Utah that is almost complete, according to a Fox News article. With the ability to store 5 zettabytes of info–the equivalent to 62 billion iphone 5’s–the details of what the new base will be used for are being kept secret. Director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander claims that the center will not be used to store data on Americans, saying that the NSA takes civil liberties very seriously, and that it would be against policy to hold data on U.S. citizens. Unfortunately, the NSA has used “dragnet” methods of collecting and storing data in the past, organizing it into a google-like search to be combed through later. This brings some privacy and personal rights questions into light. The whistleblowers who brought this “dragnet” tactic to light are skeptical of the NSA’s trustworthiness with that kind of storage and processing capabilities. One whistleblower, Thomas Drake, was even unsuccessfully prosecuted under the Espionage Act for his part in exposing these NSA data storage practices. Here’s what Drake had to say about the new NSA center.
“It’s in secret so you don’t really know,” Drake explained. “It’s benign, right. If I haven’t — and if I haven’t done anything wrong it doesn’t matter. The only way you can have perfect security is have a perfect surveillance state. That’s George Orwell. That’s 1984. That’s what that would look like.”
The base does not have to have a sinister purpose for being built, the problem is the capabilities could be easily misused by individuals in the government, or by whole government agencies. Even if the intentions of the current NSA are good, what happens when someone not so well intentioned takes control? Bill Binney, another whistleblower who worked for the NSA for nearly 40 years, expressed concerns over the storing of data on innocent American citizens.
“It’s really a– turnkey situation, where it could be turned quickly and become a totalitarian state pretty quickly,” he said. “The capacities to do that is being set up. Now it’s a question of if we get the wrong person in office, or if certain people set up their network internally in government, they could make that happen quickly.”
Which of course is the point of having objective laws, so that it doesn’t matter who is in power. Yet the laws in America are becoming more and more arbitrary, as Congress continues its efforts to regulate the internet and expand the definition of illegal online activity. This is exactly the type of situation in which we need oversight of the NSA, yet all their rules are being kept secret, and the best we get is an assurance from the NSA that other agencies are watching over the NSA. That does not quite cut it. We are at serious risk of having our Fourth Amendment rights completely taken if the surveillance state continues to grow. It may be cliche, but Ben Franklin was dead on when he said “They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety”.