Many countries have drastically elaborated on their ability to spy on their citizens amid the COVID-19 pandemic. It’s not shocking that notorious surveillance states such as China have taken measures to heavily monitor their population – those measures were already in place, and expanding them to cover virus tracking was hardly an undertaking.
The United States has followed suit by maximizing the scope of their spying mandate, The Patriot Act, to further monitor citizens’ online activity without any checks or balances. Two Senators, Ron Wyden of Oregon and Steve Daines of Montana, made a bid to remove extended surveillance power from the reauthorization of The Patriot Act. Due to a lackluster turnout during the vote, their efforts fell short by a single vote.
The Controversial Patriot Act
The Patriot Act, a government spying bill, was put in place at a time when America was feeling particularly vulnerable. In the wake of 9/11, most American citizens were willing to do anything they could possibly do to thwart potential terrorist attacks from forming on US soil. One of the ways in which Americans were relegated to playing their part as patriots was the Patriot Act, a bill designed to allow the government to monitor all sorts of activity and collect a broad array of data with the hope of detecting “red flags” that would indicate that something may be amiss.
Privacy advocates never found themselves on board with The Patriot Act, no matter what the government declared the act was designed to do. Collecting and storing a vast wealth of data pertaining to private citizens seemed to be a violation of everyone’s civil rights. Naysayers to this day are eager to tell you that, across the decades the Patriot Act has been installed, it has never once been successfully used to thwart a terrorist attack.
What it Means
This vote allows law enforcement agencies to access anyone’s web browsing history at any time, without a warrant. Since warrants are typically used to determine whether or not there is enough just cause to investigate or surveil someone, removing the warrant from the process means open season on virtually everyone.
Amidst Stay at Home orders, the population has grown increasingly more dependent on the internet. They cannot go out, so most of their shopping, leisure, and social interaction transpires digitally. Increasing surveillance on the internet at a time where usage is its heaviest has some significant implications.
Perhaps the most troubling aspect of this whole ordeal is the ambiguity regarding how and why these newly granted permissions would be used. There is no clear expressed purpose or specific event precipitating the necessity of such a largely overreaching move. This is very much a show of “because we can” and privacy advocates are not here for it.
Upholding Your Right to Privacy
Citizens must take their privacy into their own hands. No one else is going to successfully defend your right to privacy. You are not a criminal, and you should not allow yourself to be treated like one. Using a VPN like TorGuard will keep your internet activity safe from prying eyes – including three letter agencies who may have been granted permission to stalk you without a warrant. It does not matter if you barely use the internet for more than Netflix and Facebook – what matters is the principal. You are not suspected of a crime, and you shouldn’t allow yourself to be subject to the undue scrutiny.