By: Kevin Mulcrone
If you’re anything like me, you woke up late on Monday, rolled over, grabbed your phone, opened up your favorite social media app (mine happens to be Twitter) and spent 15 minutes scrolling through a timeline brimming with quotes and pictures of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. before finally mustering up enough strength to throw the sheets off and start the day.
While it was a relief to have a three-day weekend after such an academically grueling week of classes, I couldn’t help but consider the irony that the U.S. has a federal holiday for someone who at one point was labeled an enemy of the state.
I agree with many others who consider King to be one of the most important and influential private American citizens of the last 100 years. Yet, at the time of his death he was being wiretapped and monitored by the FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) because of his opposition to the Vietnam War and dedication to civil rights.
It’s not as if King was threatening public safety – in fact, quite the opposite. His dedication to non-violent resistance and open dialogue about civil rights issues is unheard of in today’s political climate.
Everyone who organizes and mobilizes American citizens to enact effective change in their government like Dr. King did should be admired. What if he was alive today though? Imagine the information the National Security Agency (NSA), an arm of the U.S. government that was revealed in 2013 to be monitoring and storing huge quantities of citizens’ private online and cellular communications , would have on Dr. King if he had a cell phone, an email address or a Facebook account.
It would be easy to disrupt the movement he was leading if law enforcement had access to such data. I can see J. Edgar Hoover trying to climb out of his grave if he knew the government had access to such a vast quantity of data that can be sorted, filtered and searched by keyword.
And yet, if we examine the landscape of candidates running for president, only two –
Bernie Sanders and Rand Paul – want to end this practice. Candidates from both major parties have said that they not only support this policy but would actually increase the amount of surveillance in order to “protect national security.” This is despite the fact that there is zero evidence that suggests the program assists in that.
The fourth Amendment allows for law enforcement to wiretap and conduct surveillance on suspected criminals provided they have a probable cause and a warrant from a judge. It does not allow for what the NSA is doing today. It is the mass collection and storage of such data on law-abiding citizens that should cause alarm. Even if this information is not being used nefariously now, it could be in the future. Imagine this sort of power in the hands of an irrational, impulsive, toupee wearing real estate mogul from New York turned President.
The right to private, uncensored communication is essential for new ideas to be formed and old ones challenged within a free society. The bulk collection of such communications is a threat to personal liberty, political change and ultimately a better world because who knows which enemies of the state today will be the national heroes of tomorrow.