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Pandora’s Box, General Edward Braddock, & The NSA

Pandora's Box

This summer, the nation was shocked to find out that the National Security Agency (NSA) was spying on all Americans through the collection of information by emails, cell phones, and other forms of internet based communication. In addition to the NSA scandal, there were allegations that the database that will be used to implement the Affordable Care Act will allow non-government employees access to people’s social security number and other personal information without the individual’s consent. These and other stories of how a person’s privacy is being invaded through technology will bring the concept of data privacy into the American consciousness.

Data privacy are the laws and regulations that companies, universities, hospitals, and government agencies have to comply with when an entity stores information on an individual. For instance, when you purchase an item on the internet, you must provide personal information, (i.e. name, address, phone number, credit card number) in order for you not only to purchase the item, but to have that item delivered to you. A majority of countries around the world, including the United States have regulations that not only determines how long that information is kept, but the steps to make sure that information is protected from hackers, and the ability for the person who placed the order to access the information. In the matter of government agencies, there are additional regulations as well.

Recently, Republican Congressman Justin Amash and Democrat Congressman John Conyers placed an amendment in the Defense Appropriation Bill to cut the funding of this program. The conflict in Washington can be summed up between an alliance of progressives and libertarians against national security hawks. Progressives and libertarians believe that the NSA program is a threat to our Constitution. The national security hawks view the NSA program as essential for our national security due to the threat from Al-Qaeda or from their sympathizers. Although the amendment was defeated, this issue of data privacy requires Congress to reassess the Patriot Act and its related legislation.

Congress in reassessing the Patriot Act and other surveillance statues needs to recognize the fact that technology is stripping away the traditional sense of privacy. Think about it, with Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, people know where we are. Additionally, with cell phone video cameras, strangers can post our most embarrassing moments on YouTube or email it to their friends, without our consent. When Congress is debating this issue, it must keep in mind the lessons of Pandora’s Box and General Edward Braddock.

Pandora’s Box is a story from Greek mythology. A young lady named Pandora was given a box and was told not to open it. She disobeyed the instructions and opened the box. What came out of the box were evil spirits, disease, and everything that is wrong with the world. The lesson from Pandora’s Box is that Congress must recognize that despite the advances of technology, there is the strong possibility of abuse from the government. It is very easy for citizens to trade their freedoms in the name of security. However, it is very hard for government to relinquish its power. With that abuse of power, we become a nation under tyrants.

On the other hand, Congress needs to heed the lessons of General Edward Braddock, as well. General Braddock was a British general that was sent to fight the French in North America in what was called the French and Indian War. General Braddock suffered one of the worst military defeats at the hand of French and Indians in Fort Necessity, which is now located in Farmington, Pennsylvania. General Braddock lost this battle was based on his refusal to adapt to the conditions of the terrain. Braddock’s soldiers were wearing their battle uniforms from Europe, which had few forests. Braddock’s fighting tactics were not suited for the Pennsylvania terrain. His refusal to adjust was fatal not only to his men, but it also cost General Braddock his life. The lesson that Congress must take from General Braddock is the importance of evaluating “the terrain” and adapting.

We will soon be approaching the twelfth anniversary of 9/11. It is time that we review the terrain of what we have done since 9/11. We are dealing not with a nation, but individuals who are bound by an ideology-an ideology which uses our notion of freedoms to destroy us. The key here is not destroying our freedoms in the name of security. Congress must balance the lessons of Pandora’s Box and General Braddock in order to resolve this tension.

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