In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in December, many Americans are calling for a re-evaluation of gun control in the United States. The disparity among the existing opinions about guns has led to an explosive debate. Public awareness is at its height, the president is taking initiative, and Congress plans to follow suit. But is this hype the root cause of our inattentiveness to another issue – one equally as important?
Recently, a national defense law that will affect every citizen’s right to privacy was reauthorized in the Senate. Both the media coverage and the public reaction to the legislation were unremarkable compared to the national gun debate.
The reauthorization of the FISA Amendments Act of 2008 allows central intelligence to acquire information about foreigners perceived as threats, and reportedly permits domestic citizens to be targeted through emails and texts.
The loophole that allows for this appears in the rhetoric of the legislation. While the act prohibits the interception of “purely domestic” communications, an additional clause may allow for exceptions. Emails and texts cannot be known as domestic “… at the time of acquisition,” but intelligence agencies can claim that they had no such knowledge. Intelligence Committee Chairman Mike Rogers even acknowledges that the act permits the surveillance of American citizens in some cases.
The renewal of the FISA Act represents the government limiting individual privacy rights. But it is not alone. Many private corporations also have become storehouses of personal information, collecting data from texts, emails, website visits – even tweets.
Considering today’s teenagers are the generation born into the Internet age, this decline in privacy greatly affects the frequent users of such technology. According to a study conducted by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 95 percent of teens in the 12- to 17-year-old age bracket use the Internet.
Yet, when Microsoft implemented a new services agreement policy in October, there was very little reaction from teenagers (or anyone else). The agreement outlined more leeway for the company to gather and sort information about consumers’ habits and interests. In the future, the data will be manipulated to make Microsoft’s other products more desirable.
It is obvious that the concept of individual privacy rights is being redefined. In some ways, these adjustments could make America safer or more protected, but the changes should still attract more attention. I can hardly imagine everyone being completely supportive of the legislation – or private companies’ ability to collect data – if awareness was as widespread as it is about the possible gun legislation.
In the end, the right to privacy and to bear arms represents a small portion of all freedoms Americans are given by birthright. However, we cannot assume that time is frozen and that our freedoms are permanently protected. The most effective way we can ensure our rights is by staying informed and passionate about all liberties to which we are entitled.
Kendra Mayer is a senior at Williamsville East High School.