Over recent months, a worrying increase in organised crimes and devastating shootouts all over the United States has shocked citizens worldwide. As politicians and security officials have become hard pressed for security legislation, a balance of civil liberties and state protection has proven seemingly hard to weigh out.
The past few weeks’ events involving the formidable FBI and tech giant Apple have accentuated this conundrum all the more. No one advocates for such catastrophic terrorist attacks, but ensuring privacy when monitoring criminal suspects is vital. There is no denying that this form of criminal investigation can be valuable when enforcing the law. Serious organised crimes and terrorist atrocities are more frequent than ever, and monitoring the movements of suspect individuals is paramount for the protection of a nation’s citizens.
But there is something gravely worrying about such robust precautions. The guaranteed right to privacy of many civilians is at threat. Apple’s resilience towards the FBI’s coercive demands, however, is reassuring news for many liberals. The company’s decision not to aid US agencies in the recovery of personal data on a suspect’s phone has highlighted the need for clamping down on the state’s data monopoly.
Last week, however, with third-party support, the FBI succeeded in breaking through what used to be Apple’s impenetrable wall of security. The highest criminal investigations agency in the world had defied the passcode of San Bernardino shooter Syed Farook’s iPhone. George Orwell must be turning in his grave. The FBI’s hacking has proven that the US government – and, evidently, many other global governments – can summon the personal details of any citizen, exposing vast details of their private life. Needless to say, technology use is widespread today. The possibility of those either wrongly or correctly accused of criminal activities having their right to privacy taken away from them is worrying likely. Apple dominates a large section of the worldwide technology market, meaning that the number of individuals who could be at threat from such stringent surveillance measures is considerably large. In the wrong hands, these capabilities could prove to be detrimental. Within myriad governments, the unwarranted tracking of citizens may now become more normal.
The United States isn’t the only nation that must be brought into focus when it comes to the liberties versus security debate. Rigorous monitoring has caused discontent across the world. The information provided by whistle-blowers like Edwards Snowden is pivotal, and shows the large extent to which the US government already spies on its citizens. Other national governments the world over have succeeded in using data monitoring as a source of crime deterrence. China’s strict internet monitoring, the United Kingdom’s ‘snoopers charter’ and the arrest of a Facebook executive in Brazil highlight the rigid surveillance measures which have emerged internationally. Individual liberties are fast becoming unduly curbed. Just because many other states’ governments have succeeded in such wide-scaled monitoring does not mean that the United States can operate a similar system which is free of controversial agenda.
Surely it is time that the White House took definitive action, standing up for its traditionally libertarian principles. There is a large potential for such invasive powers to be used wrongly, and for innocent citizens’ privacy to be crushed. In Obama’s last-minute legislative rush, he and his left-wing democrats should spend the last few months of administration over the protection individual freedoms. Attitudes towards civil liberty and national security could, of course, rapidly change under Presidents Clinton, Trump or Cruz. News that President Obama has failed to either condemn or support the probing actions of the FBI shows up his indecisiveness in relation to the matter. In order to protect his nation’s people, the US President must lucidly proclaim his stance, taking radical action.
Ron Wyden, Senator for Oregon, is just one of the high-profile politicians whom have condemned the controversial actions of the FBI. It seems that, despite the fact that there are plausible arguments for such monitoring in our growingly insecure society, the livelihoods and safety of citizens are at risk. The right to privacy is one which is becoming eroded, and one that is in danger of being forgotten. Unless global governments strike the correct balance, citizens may soon have their individuality and privileges taken from them.