Since island scenarios usually provide helpful examples of human interaction in order to conceptualize just or unjust laws, let's imagine four people on an island: Han Solo, Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO.
On this island, R2-D2 and Chewie often correspond through letters but they speak different languages and find it difficult, if not impossible, to read each other’s letters. In order to solve the problem, they hire C-3PO to be a translator. Each letter gets sent to C-3PO first and C-3PO then translates the letter and delivers it to the recipient. In this scenario, R2-D2 and Chewie both agreed to C-3PO’s terms and let him keep copies of the letters for himself in order to study and improve his translating abilities. The three of them are happy with this arrangement. But Han is also on this island and Han believes in the need for absolute security against any possible threat, whether internal or external. Because of this, Han demands that C-3PO hand over copies of all the correspondence that he collects. Essentially, Han is demanding that C-3PO hand over his personal property. Is this a just demand? What if Chewie and R2-D2 actually support Han in his safety measures? Then is it just? In either case, I submit that it is not.
You may have heard about the NSA secrets that were exposed by former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden. I sincerely hope that you have heard about them since they directly affect you. If you haven’t heard about them, then please start reading (and stop watching) the news.
The NSA (National Security Agency) has basically been sucking up vast amounts of data; data that you produce when you send emails, make phone calls, share on Facebook, or send instant messages. All this data is stored and is searchable by government employees, with no warrant necessary! This data vacuuming by the government is mostly accomplished by putting pressure on third parties; companies that provide the services that you and I use every day. Google, Verizon, AT&T, Microsoft, Apple, and many other companies are required by “law” to give the government access to all sorts of records. Noncompliance by these companies can result in fines, jail time, or other punishments. And just like that, the NSA can paint a very accurate picture of your friendships, your communications, your movements, and all the other intimate details of your life.
Whether you support these actions or not, my purpose here is to articulate exactly why they are not consistent with the principles of liberty.
Many people are quick to point to the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. The Fourth Amendment clearly protects individuals against unreasonable searches and seizures on their property and that protection definitely extends to businesses, which are, after all, the property of individuals. The only way the government can “legally” obtain evidence is by executing a search warrant that is issued by a judge based upon probable cause, which very specifically details the places and things to be searched. This is clearly not happening at the NSA. All the data is just being collected so they can go back and look at it later if they want to, just in case something happens in the future that involves you, or someone you know, or someone who knows someone you know, or someone who knows someone who knows someone you know (I’m not even kidding about this).
But remember that the Constitution does not “give” you your rights. It only protects them. Your rights are inalienable and no ink on paper, not even the United States Constitution, can change them. Natural rights supersede any constitution. If the Fourth Amendment gets abolished tomorrow it will have no effect upon what is right and what is wrong. On our island, earlier in this post, there was no written constitution but it was easy to identify unjust behavior. Everyone will always have the right to life, liberty, and property, no matter what. It is these rights that should protect you from government spying.