Internet Privacy: At the Mercy of the NSA

Article by: Umar Maniku

Wikimedia Foundation, the parent company of the famous online encyclopedia service Wikipedia, has sued the US National Security Agency for violating user privacy and the constitutional rights of Wikimedia. According to the foundation, the NSA collects information from internet users in a process called upstream surveillance. This, according to an article on CNET, “violates the First Amendment right of free speech and the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable search and seizure.” Wikimedia is not alone in its battle against the American surveillance giant, as no less than eight other organisations, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have joined the fight for individual freedoms on the internet.

Again internet privacy rears its ugly head as the technological world dives into yet another tumultuous debate as to how should internet privacy be controlled, if at all. The NSA, in many ways, acts like a bully who forcibly coerces personal information from people, yet does not even bother to amend its ways, even after it has been exposed. This point hikes back to the diplomatic debacle that was Edward Snowden. The former NSA systems administrator had leaked classified documents regarding a global surveillance campaign run by the NSA, which supposedly taps into the Internet’s backbone to retrieve information on “non-US” persons. While this is still authorized under the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 2008, the NSA still continues to blatantly overstep the boundaries of its jurisdiction.

Wikimedia posted last week on its company blog that “Privacy is the bedrock of individual freedom. It is the universal right that sustains the freedoms of expression and association.” Unfortunately, this view, while certainly well-intentioned, is idealistic at best. National organizations like the NSA exist to fulfill the agenda that has been given to them by their respective governments. As such, internet privacy is very much a one-way mirror. Our actions are all completely visible to internet organizations while, paradoxically, the shady under dealings of said organizations are hidden from view under miles of red tape and diplomatic dead-ends. While the Wikimedia lawsuit against the NSA may cause a change in the NSA’s dealings, the NSA ultimately still has complete jurisdiction over its actions.

Society, unfortunately, cannot rely on another Edward Snowden figure, who placed moral integrity over work dedication, to uncover the devious actions committed within the halls of the NSA headquarters. We all have to live with fact that internet privacy is sadly limited in today’s world, and that it will continue to be the case further into the future while the NSA trawls virtual waters without heed or respect for personal rights.