The Impact of the NSA and Patriot Act on Privacy


The year is 2001. You are living in the United States in the wake of the September 11th terrorist attacks. Out of the gloominess and ever-present dust comes a beam of hope–a beam of hope that will lower the chances of events like this ever happening again.

This is the purpose of the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act, as defined by the U.S. Department of Justice,  “…has played a key part – and often the leading role – in a number of successful operations to protect innocent Americans from the deadly plans of terrorists dedicated to destroying America and our way of life.”

But what Congress didn’t tell you was that the government was, both necessarily and unnecessarily, sponsoring government surveillance. Although it is highly likely that these efforts have greatly succeeded in their intent, however drastic, it sounds eerily similar to George Orwell’s 1984.

In fact, Senator Rand Paul has described in detail just what the government knows about you. He says, “They can see things, including doctors and feasibly prescriptions. They can see what [periodicals] you take out from Amazon…they can see your library records.” The government has this stranglehold on this information you are freely doling out to them. Senator Paul also describes the relationships between the United States government and parties with whom you conduct business. Saying “[currently] you can say right now, ‘I don’t know if they are investigating me.’ Do you know why? Because they tell [parties] like your phone company if the government is looking at your visa records. It is against the law for your phone company to tell you about it.”

He also details the original, more stringent conditions of the Patriot Act. Citing “the original Patriot Act…you were gagged from telling your attorney you were under surveillance.”

In spite of the cutbacks, however slight, the Patriot Act still has enormous control on your information. The NSA, though, has changed some of their policies in the direction of phone surveillance. To paraphrase The Huffington Post, these new cutbacks put an end to “roving wiretaps” that collectively places surveillance on multiple devices under one court order.

However, these measures are temporary. Even more frighteningly, the eyes of the American public were opened to these governmental efforts only after Edward Snowden, a former NSA contractor, leaked certain NSA activities involving all-encompassing surveillance.

Yet, this is probably only the tip of the iceberg. If this one collection of programs was collected over the course of only roughly thirteen years, imagine what has been created in the nearly sixty years since the NSA’s inception.

Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who sacrifice liberty in exchange for security may end up with neither.” Quite frankly, given the actions of both the Patriot Act and the NSA, the loss of both liberty and security seem to be looming on the not-so-distant horizon