Every word found in the Bill of Rights was written by the Founders for a reason, and we must never forget that. If one of our rights comes under attack, then all of them are at risk (which is why we must continue to advocate for the right to bear arms, despite protests from those on the left who still don’t understand this fact). When security or safety are cited, we must be very careful to make sure we aren’t being taken advantage of, as it is far more difficult to gain our rights back after they have been taken away.
Currently, it appears our First Amendment Rights are the ones requiring the most vigilance. People are fighting the good fight for gun rights and spreading the truth, and many of our other rights aren’t under attack (no one is looking to quarter troops in American homes). Yet people are watching what they say more often—anyone against the large government agenda is quickly silenced—and the government is getting involved in Americans lives beyond an acceptable level. We need protection for our rights, and here we take a look at why we need to be paying attention:
The Government Doesn’t Need to Censor Us When Everyone Else Does
Even just 50 years ago, the government was really the only entity that could really censor us. They were the only organization that truly had that power, and they used it sparingly. However, now, your political views can be filtered or blocked away, and your ability to speak freely relies on access to forums (both physical and virtual) that amplify, however temporarily, one’s ability to be heard amongst a sea of millions.
The public doesn’t necessarily hold that power anymore when compared to corporations and data trackers who tie everything you say and believe to future job prospects, public opinion and public memory. People can’t change their minds so easily anymore. Social media giants can provide an uneven playing field for views which they disagree with, even when those platforms are your only real means of communication with people in your life.
People have every right to ignore or rebuke someone, just as they have the right to free speech. Yet this is a cultural phenomenon that is happening, and it’s dividing the country. No one will listen, and our government is only exacerbating the issue. Bipartisanship, as dirty of a word it is, is necessary for progress. The government isn’t explicitly censoring us with laws, but the tone it sets for the rest of the nation is censoring debate and logic, which is possibly worse. It needs to change its course and start guaranteeing fairness of platform for our First Amendment rights to remain relevant in the modern world.
We’re Being Watched
Regardless of whether you believe Snowden’s actions were appropriate, or whether you think the government’s motivations are altruistic in nature, the reality is that we live in a surveillance state. Our actions and communications are being monitored by the government, and we’d be foolish to think that information isn’t being used to profile us.
The very knowledge we are being watched changes how we react to things and speak to each other. Consider the Hawthorne Effect (or observation bias). Even if we find our ideas valid or acceptable, some of us may change the wording or tone we use when expressing those ideas simply because we know we’re being watched.
People might soon grow scared to say anything meaningful in public. Alternatively, that infrastructure used to watch us might be used one day to censor us. It’s far too powerful of a system for Americans to leave alone, and if it can’t be dismantled, it needs more transparency. American citizens deserve to know who is watching them.
Technology Is Expanding, but Are Our Rights?
By providing more information than anyone could cover in a lifetime to anyone with access while also providing a platform for communication with like-minded (and opposite-minded) individuals, the internet has changed the world like nothing before it. It has expanded commerce and provided the average American with both a window to the world and the ability to fact-check the press. But there are downsides as well.
As much as we can spy on the world, the world can spy on us. Additionally, the courts weren’t exactly ready for the myriad of legal implications of the internet, often involving rights, platforms and anonymity. The issue of net neutrality is on the table, and it comes down to either restricting businesses in their ability to control access or putting people at the mercy of biased companies who often have a monopoly on a service that is needed to perform many tasks.
Therefore, the question becomes: Do people have a right to unrestricted internet access, considering it is often necessary to live in modern society? Is the interent not a utility just like water and electricity? People need to answer this question and address the outcome as soon as possible because this ambiguity has a similar effect as censorship. Limiting people’s ability to have a voice in the common forum by limiting access is the same as limiting people’s ability to have a voice by controlling content.
Currently, people are finding ways around current restrictions and surveillance, often using proxies or relying on that anonymity as much as possible, even on social media to a point. But until there is a well-defined guarantee of online rights, many of our first-amendment freedoms are diminished, if not compromised.
About the Author: Carla is a writer and blogger for therightsideoftruth.com who focuses heavily on the current political situation, technology and how the corrupt in both business and politics are using the changing times to mask their efforts to take away our freedoms. She is at once curious and vigilant about what Washington will do next to combat these practices.