All of these criticisms could be valid. Technology firms may not have given intelligence agencies unfettered and unchecked access to their users' data. Edward Snowden may be, as the New York Times's David Brooks suggests, one of those 20-something-men leading a "life unshaped by the mediating institutions of civil society." All those critiques may be true without undermining the larger truth of Snowden's revelation: in an age of global, networked communications and interactions, we are all a lot less free than we thought we were.
I say this because nobody has seriously challenged the basic truth of Snowden's leak: that many of the world's leading telecommunications and technology firms are regularly divulging information about their users' activities and communications to law enforcement and intelligence agencies based on warrantless requests and court reviews that are hidden from public scrutiny.
It hasn't always been so. In 1877, the U.S. Supreme Court, weighing the government's ability to inspect the content of letters sent via the postal service, found that "No law of Congress can place in the hands of officials connected with the postal service any authority to invade the secrecy of letters and such sealed packages in the mail; and all regulations adopted as to mail matter of this kind must be in subordination to the great principle embodied in the fourth amendment of the Constitution." That's why all of us understand that exercising the convenience of dropping a letter in the corner post office box doesn't mean that we also consent to the government ripping open that letter and read its contents.
Sadly, we've been steadily conditioned to think differently about our electronic communications. We've been asked by both private sector firms and our government to accept a false choice: that there must be some bargain – a tradeoff between privacy and convenience."
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