By: Hannah Bleau
Citizen journalist and Flagler College student, Hannah Bleau, is attending the Conservative Political Action Conference 2014 in Washington D.C., and, as a Historic City News intern covering political stories, she filed this report from the National Security Agency Privacy Panel discussion.
“Who thinks they’re safer here today because of the data the NSA has collected?”
Out of an estimated 2,000 people, maybe 50 raised their hands. Hundreds of attendees engaged in the privacy panel on day two of the CPAC conference. The panel featured three policy experts to reflect on the current issues of privacy in modern day America.
The session began with video footage of Edward Snowden, most notably known for exposing the NSA’s data filing on average American citizens, but then fleeing out of the country seeking asylum in China and currently, Russia.
The video showed Snowden expressing his concerns over the NSA scandal. Snowden said the NSA claims to data mine for the good of the nation, and the most efficient way to do it is by collecting the information of everyone and not just a select few.
Despite his reasoning, the video stirred mixed emotions in the audience. Moderator John Solomon, editor of the Washington Times, opened the debate by asking about Snowden. Is he a traitor or patriot?
Bruce Fein, Principle of Bruce Fein & Associates, Inc. opened the argument. The NSA, he argued, attempts to justify the actions of spying on American citizens under the guise of the ultimate social good.
“The justification is that, according to the NSA operators, it gives us the confidence level that there, in fact, is no connection between all of you in the audience and international terrorism. That is now surveillance is authorized not because they’re suspecting wrongdoing, but because there isn’t any suspected wrongdoing. They want confirmation of that sort, but I think that shows how far we have come from the original meaning of the fourth amendment,” Fein said.
According to Fein, the NSA has been collecting data from average American citizens since May 2006. As far as Fein is concerned, Snowden did not directly commit a terrible crime. As a government agency, the NSA should be held to the higher standard. Anger should be directed toward the government itself, and not necessarily Snowden as an individual. Fein said the Founding Fathers highlighted the importance of an individual’s right to be let alone from government intrusion.
“We don’t have to give a reason to be left alone. It’s our right because we’re human beings. It is the government that needs to give a reason to why,” Fein said.
Second panel member, former Governor of Virginia Jim Gilmore Jr., had a slightly different take on the situation, and the audience seemed to agree with him for the first part of his analysis.
He held up the cover of the New York Post, which pictured Snowden next to Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“Edward Snowden is a traitor and a coward. The fact is that Edward Snowden betrayed his trust,” Gilmore said.
He even added that some claim Snowden “obtained this information through trickery.”
Gilmore said anger should be directed at Snowden. Instead of residing in the United States, Snowden fled to Hong Kong where he exposed the information, and Gilmore suspects that he may have leaked some of this information to the Chinese government. To Gilmore, Snowden compromised his allegiance to the United States.
“And then at a later time he goes off to Russian in order to pay common cause with a Stalinist thug who today is doing something right now that is unacceptable in the Ukraine,” Gilmore said.
Gilmore said the Constitution clearly lays out the criteria for treason. That includes giving aid and comfort to our enemies, and that is precisely what Snowden is doing.
The audience began to drift when Gilmore came in defense of the government’s breech on our privacy. He attempted to win the audience back by displaying his staunch respect for the fourth amendment, noting that he vetoed red light bills when he was Governor of Virginia. Murmurs rushed through the audience, and some people vocalized their disgust.
The third panelist was student representative Charlie Kirk, Executive Director of Turning Point USA. He represented the sentiments of the younger generation.
Moderator Solomon asked him if young Americans are even concerned with the issue of privacy. The current generation is immersed in technology and constantly putting voluntary information out there. What do they make of the situation?
“I don’t think young people look at him whether as a patriot or traitor but rather…what he revealed. Every single tweet, every single snap chat, every single text message, call is being stored, collected, and analyzed. And we’re in a culture where what you believe is being used against you,” Kirk said.
The government, in general, data mining and using the information against you, most notably with the IRS targeting conservatives, is what Kirk thinks should concern people.
It is not necessarily what Snowden did, but what he revealed. The government is capable of not only collecting people’s information, but also using it against them. Kirk said it’s this revelation that needs to be addressed.
“There is a fine line between what you tweet, post and make public and what is behind a closed veil. There is a secrecy line that the government has crossed especially with the younger generation,” Kirk said.
Although the three panelist members had slightly different takes on the situation, they all related to socially engaged audience in some form.
Fein encompassed the sentiment of almost everyone when he quoted from Thomas Jefferson:
“When the government fears the people,
you have liberty.
When the people fear the government,
you have tyranny.”