by Katelyn Knickerbocker, Stephen Ingersoll, and Ryan Daly

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, investigations took place to see whether suspect Tamerlan Tsarnaev’s wife was involved in the attack. In a conversation with Tim Clemente, a former FBI agent, the question arose whether the government can really access specific phone calls and text messages that citizens have with one another.

Clemente stated, “All of that stuff is being captured as we speak whether we know it or like it.” He clarified in later discussions that “all digital communications” are being stored, including phone calls, e-mails, texts, and instant messages. According to former Central Intelligence Agency employee Edward Snowden, there is a program used by the National Security Organization that enables analysts to access countless communications without any authorization from the citizens themselves.

Electronic information can be extremely useful, if not crucial, for important investigations like the Boston Marathon Bombing investigation, but if digital conversations are being recorded, how much privacy do American citizens truly have? How much prying power should be given to the government? Do citizens have the right to be protected from the government’s intrusion? Citizens should have privacy, and the government should only pry into their private lives when absolutely necessary, rather than recording and storing conversations on a regular basis.

The Constitution does not have much to say on personal privacy aside from the Fourth Amendment protection declaring it “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”, but it is difficult to discern the extent of this right. Today, the reaches of this Amendment are merely assumed and not clearly laid out.

Currently, the government is able to access any information they need and, according to many experts and employees, this information is being actively recording as much as they need. By using only an e-mail address or telephone number, the National Security Agency (NSA) can use one of its programs to access an individual’s browser history and “real-time” internet activity. The NSA is also able to access the IP addresses of every user who accesses specific websites. However, if there is no reason for concern about an individual, there should be no need for the government to be recording or accessing such information, especially without permission from the person.

While the NSA firmly states that information is only accessed by authorized officials for specific cases that affect security, it is still unsettling for many Americans to know that their information is being collected and stored. Jathan Sadowski wrote after reading Georgetown University law professor Julie Cohen’s work, “Privacy is crucial for helping us manage all of these pressures [surveillance, judgment, values of our society and culture] — pressures that shape the type of person we are — and for ‘creating spaces for play and the work of self-[development].’” This self-development shapes who we are, who we want to be, and helps us to live life to the fullest.  Whether the person realizes it or not, monitoring, especially constant monitoring, can affect their self-esteem and behavior.

Because privacy is an important part of daily life, and because privacy affects people psychologically, specific laws should be in place to ensure the privacy of American citizens.  These laws should clearly state what information should be collected and when it is necessary or justifiable to collect it. Information pertaining to national security and terrorism should continue to be accessed, but conversations and personal communications by innocent, ordinary citizens should not be collected or accessed unless there is an absolute need for the information.

Citizens should not have to live knowing that their personal e-mails and messages are stored and could potentially be accessed without their consent. Specific privacy laws would protect American citizens and create a more behaviorally sound, confident country whose citizens can have faith that their government only intrudes their privacy when necessary.

In the end, people should have a right to privacy, and unless their information harms the lives of others, it should not be collected by the government.