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The Dartmouth
June 21, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Miller: Beating Big Brother Back

Although last year’s NSA scandal has largely faded from the news, the U.S. government’s strong-arming of technology companies that have million of users’ private information has not ended. Last December, Facebook, Microsoft and Google joined other technology companies in lobbying President Barack Obama to reform government surveillance practices. Last week, Twitter filed a lawsuit against the U.S. government to further the coalition’s goal of increasing the amount of information companies can provide to their users with regard to government information requests.

Right now, companies cannot legally disclose to their customers when information about them has been requested and handed over to government agencies. The Justice Department recently has allowed these companies to express in very broad terms the number of government requests for personal data (a range rather than actual number). The only rationale for trying to convolute solid numbers into a range is to undermine facts — facts that many Americans would most likely find disturbing.

Jeremy Kessel, Twitter’s global legal policy manager, wrote in a blog post several months ago that “allowing Twitter, or any other similarly situated company, to only disclose national security requests within an overly broad range seriously undermines the objective of transparency.” These concerted efforts to prevent transparency, and Congress’s apparent inability to properly handle the situation, is an embarrassment. Washington cares more about re-election than solving actual problems like the thug-like treatment of tech companies by federal agencies.

Twitter’s lawsuit, filed last Tuesday, should receive greater media attention and concern among Americans. The fact that the government not only seeks private and personal information from these companies, but also has erected significant legal barriers to prevent the companies from letting their users be aware that government agencies are collecting information on them is like something out of an Orwellian dystopian novel. Last time I checked, my Facebook messages and tweets are intended for my friends, not some government bureaucrat gathering data for “my own protection.”

While the media is quick to decry human rights violations abroad or criticize foreign governments, the same level of scrutiny does not seem to apply to our own government. There should be more scrutiny of challenges facing the U.S. at home. The modern media has failed us by not providing broader coverage of this fight between the U.S. government and tech companies.

Twitter’s lawsuit is a noble lawsuit if there ever was one. By filing this suit, Twitter is saying that it will not settle for the travesty of transparency which the Justice Department put forward in January — part of a larger battle against the continual erosion of personal freedom and growth of large intrusive and malignant government. Regardless of your political affiliation or party, laws restricting the disclosure of government surveillance on its own civilians should raise a red flag. This is not something of the land of the free and home of the brave, but more along the lines of Stalinist Russia. Americans should become more aware of movements such as “Reform Government Surveillance” and note the tech industry’s unity in its fight against a gross invasion of privacy and free expression. More pressure should now come from voters, the vast majority of whom use services provided by these companies each day, this November.