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21st-century Big Brother concern: government’s online monitoring

Are you being watched? Are Facebook images of you also being perused by security officials via top-secret databases used for domestic spying? Are comments you posted innocuously online concerning your views on topics ranging from marijuana use and sexting to political activism and other topics being scrutinized by officials from the FBI or NSA?

You obviously hope not, given that the very idea is chilling. Can it possibly be that the nation’s citizenry is the mass target of clandestine domestic surveillance efforts?

The American Civil Liberties Union thinks the answer to that query is obvious, with agency denials being even a bit ridiculous presently. A recent ACLU-penned article notes that the federal government has in recent years “significantly ramped up its efforts to monitor people on social media.” The FBI has flatly acknowledged that it engages in online surveillance activities.

That is disturbing, the legal advocacy group notes, and it should bother all Americans. And the ACLU notes that it is especially troublesome because a number of federal security/enforcement agencies have grown mum on exactly what they’re doing online regarding citizen monitoring.

“The public has a right to know about the exact nature of social media surveillance,” stresses the ACLU, because it “raises a number of red flags.”

Foremost, perhaps, is its above-noted chilling effect on a constitutional right held inviolable by virtually every American. The right of free speech is a capstone legal guarantee. Secret government surveillance of speech understandably dilutes that right by making people fearful. The loss is large, and fundamentally injurious to a democratic society.

And then there is this, of course: Government processes and officials are fallible; spying efforts up the ante “that innocent people will be wrongly investigated or put on government watchlists” for exercising their speech rights.

Technology is constantly evolving, and can be used in both positive and negative ways. The latter potential is ever present relevant to domestic government surveillance, and must be persistently spotlighted and reasonably questioned.

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