Our right to private communications is a cornerstone of American democracy. But with heightened awareness in the aftermath of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, technological advances have continued allowing the government to expand its reach into our private lives via electronic surveillance and data-mining programs. New laws and policies introduced in the last decade have eroded our civil liberties online.
Congress has a poor track record when it comes to cybersecurity legislation. The bills introduced so far give the government way too much power to intrude on our privacy online.
We have already seen legislation that would authorize internet service providers and other companies to share customer data with the government. Such bills could pave the way for a spying regime that allows the government and companies to bypass privacy protections and more freely share information on what we read, listen to and watch on the internet.
This kind of online spying legislation chills free speech — creating an environment in which we refrain from posting on Facebook, conducting Web searches, sending emails, writing blog posts or otherwise communicating online for fear that the National Security Agency could come knocking. We’ve already seen this happen in the wake of Edward Snowden’s leaks about the NSA’s sweeping surveillance programs, which track our phone calls and monitor our Web activity.
Whatever we need to do to protect vital national interests from cyberattacks, we can’t do it at the expense of our basic civil rights. We need to avoid this false choice between security and liberty.