As the year comes to a close, Sens. Rand Paul, R-Ky., and Ron Wyden, D-Ore., two legislators on the opposite ends of the political spectrum, are sounding the alarm about the dangers of mass surveillance, especially in the digital age, in which much of our private information is on the Internet.
Last week, the two gave a joint talk at George Washington University about the implication of mass surveillance and the eroding of the Fourth Amendment due to the War on Terror. On Tuesday, they joined the American Civil Liberties Union, FreedomWorks, and other defenders of civil liberties such as Sens. Mike Lee, R-Utah, and Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., to specifically address Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, which is set to expire at the end of this year.
“We have always considered ourselves the bipartisan duo to keep hammering the message that we can’t give up liberty for security,” Paul told students at GWU.
A pressing concern for millennials is the privacy of our data. We store everything from our pictures and videos to our emails on devices and storage spaces run by third-party apparatuses. We purchase items, read our news, and watch videos of cats and President Trump singing along to "Frozen" all on the Internet.
The government, according to Paul and Wyden, has argued that due to “third-party doctrine,” Americans should not expect privacy of what they do on the Internet. Third-party doctrine is the legal theory that people cannot expect privacy after voluntarily giving their information to banks and other companies.
“Anything we do on the Internet, we absolutely expect anonymity. We don’t expect that they are going to tell anyone about our purchases or what we read on the Internet. But the government says you don’t have a privacy interest once you have a third party of information,” Paul has explained.
While millennials cannot expect everything we do on the Internet to remain private, we should expect some degree of privacy. Paul is correct that the government should not be able to snoop on our private life without a reason, as laid out in the Fourth Amendment.
In the age of Tinder and other dating apps, many don’t want others to see what we’re sending in hypothetical privacy. It’s why we’re horrified when hackers leak private pictures of celebrities when someone hacks “the cloud.”
As Wyden asks, why shouldn’t privacy protections extend to online storage spaces?
No one — neither government nor private actors — should be able to peek into our private communications without reasonable cause or suspicion.
Another issue the two senators brought up is the issue of “backdoors” through the surveillance of foreign targets’ communications. Government surveillance can give investigators access to Americans’ communications, even if they’re not the targets of an investigation.
Currently, the FBI can access these communications without a warrant under Section 702 of FISA, which is a threat to the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures.
Additionally, requiring backdoors threatens economic liberty, Wyden pointed out.
Companies, for example, can be threatened to build backdoors into their products, which lessens their ability to protect their customers’ data. This lessens their confidence in the U.S. economy and can lead to fewer jobs for millennials, who will be shouldering the brunt of expenses when it comes to paying off government promises to older generations.
Paul has said that government oversight is needed, especially in a day and age where governments across the world have tried to ban thought they deem threatening. The American government should do more to ensure that “minority of thought” is not censored.
“We have made mistakes in our past, they do happen in times of war,” Paul said. “That’s why we need government oversight, to protect our rights and the minority in thought from unlawful surveillance.”
This brings us to the crux of the debate. As the year winds down and Americans are busy holiday shopping, Senate leadership and the Trump administration are trying to ramrod reauthorization of Section 702 without debate or the ability to amend FISA. It’s Paul, Wyden, and a few others who are asking for discussion on the merits of Section 702.
Both Sens. Lee and Paul said they would vote "no" on any spending bill if Section 702 was attached to it, and they were right to say so. Millennials should look to our government to protect our privacy, not violate it in the name of combating terrorism.
As Paul wrote back in 2015, to defeat terrorism “America must have confidence in our constitutional republic, our leadership and our values.”
Currently, millennials should not hold confidence in our constitutional republic since constitutional rights are being violated in the name of security.
Americans, of any age, should not have to give up constitutional rights in the name of war. Once we begin shredding those rights, they will continue to be shred until there is nothing left of the Constitution but a page in our history books.
As Wyden told GWU students, “Smart policies get you both liberty and security and not-so-smart policy gets you less of both. Don’t ever let a politician tell you, 'You have to give up one or the other.'”
Elias J. Atienza is student at Cal Poly San Luis Obispo.