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The Human Right to Privacy: Microsoft and the NSA Essay


Summary of the issue in the article

The issue is about Microsoft collaborating with the US National Security Agency to find solutions to users’ privacy. The scale of cooperation is found in Edward Snowden files that provide an idea of how top-secret prism program works. The files reveal that “Microsoft helped the NSA to find solutions and address issues that the agency would be unable to handle regarding the new outlook.com portal, and it had already started to access emails on outlook.com” (Greenwald et al. par. 5).

In addition, the company worked with FBI to allow the NSA to easily access the prism. The company also collaborated with FBI’s data intercept to understand the issues in relation to outlook features that enable users to create emails” (Greenwald et al. par. 4). It is revealed from the article that there has been tension between Silicon Valley and the Obama’s administration (Greenwald et al. par. 8). Later, disputes arose between Microsoft Corporation and the NSA on one side and the advocates of human rights on the other side, where the NSA claimed to have direct access to the prism program that had systems of major internet companies.

According “to the Surveillance Court, communications would be collected without warrant if the US citizens were not targeted” (Greenwald et al. par. 10). Despite the fact that Microsoft and other internet companies denied the allegations, there were many documents that indicated that the NSA was accessing encrypted information, and this made the complainants file lawsuits against the defendants. Microsoft, one of the defendants, defended itself and argued that it was complying with the law (Greenwald et al. par. 9)

Nature of the case in the article

The dispute was about the privacy of users of Microsoft and other internet applications. Microsoft had started to collaborate with the NSA to help it to offer services to its customers, but as they progressed, the NSA began to access all the programs of the Microsoft that made private companies lose confidence with regard to the use of the internet (Greenwald et al. par. 12). Many people and companies using Microsoft across the world were affected.

Results of the dispute

A lawsuit was filed against the NSA by the American Civil Liberties Union because of violating constitutional rights, i.e., speech, association, and privacy. The NSA also was sued for violating the First, Fourth, and the Fifth Amendments). The US citizens were worried about the broad and intrusive the NSA’s surveillance activities. Many private companies were believed to work closely with the US intelligence and accessed classified intelligence.

New developments, updates, and additional case

Government bodies and officials were sued for the mass call tracking programs, and President Obama, directors of National Intelligence, the NSA, and FBI were also sued by Eliott Schuchardt on the grounds of violating the Fourth Amendment. With regard to the new development, in February 26, 2014, the Obama’s administration requested the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to be allowed to track millions of phone calls longer than the then five years.

In fact, the president appointed John Podesta to review huge data and privacy regulations (Greenwald et al. par. 14). However, a FISA judge denied the request in March 7, 2014, citing that the aim of retaining records would not be for national security, but for litigation of persons. In March 17, 2014, the Washington Post reported that the NSA had developed a surveillance system that was capable of documenting 100% foreign country’s telephone calls (Greenwald et al. par. 14).

My reaction to the case

It would not be right to track citizens’ communications. In most cases, tracking is done to interfere with personal privacy. There are provisions of freedom of speech, privacy, and association in the US Constitution, making it wrong for any person or organization to access individual information without his or her consent. The information is used for litigation and not for curbing terrorist activities. Therefore, the government should utilize other ways of curbing terrorist activities.

Broader discussion

The main issue that is raised in the case is accessing data using the internet by the NSA for surveillance. The case is between internet providers, the National Security Agency on one side, and citizens on the other side. The NSA was tracking communication using internet applications, and was allowing private companies to obtain the information (Sinha 487). According to the US government administration, people’s private information should be obtained to promote national security and to track terrorists (Sinha 489).

Tracking phone calls and communications would assist the administration to protect its citizens from terrorists. However, promoters of human rights hold that it is a violation of human rights (Sinha 499). They have argued that the information that is obtained through tracking is used for litigation. For example, the FreedomWatch Movement USA filed a lawsuit against government bodies and twelve companies that were believed to have accessed information about their users’ communication and data to the NSA. This, to them, is a breach of the US Constitution (Murphy 484).

It is important to note that adopting the positions held by the government and service providers on one side, and the human rights activists on the other side could have undesirable outcomes (Murphy 485). If the position of the government and service providers would be held, the rights of citizens would be violated. On other hand, if the position of the complainants is maintained, terrorists may intrude the US, and carry out criminal activities.

How the constitution applies to the issue

The US administration and the service providers would be violating human rights in relation that freedom to speech, privacy, and association (Rosen 1555). The US Constitution categorizes invasion of privacy into four, i.e., intrusion of solitude, public disclosure, false light, and appropriation (Rosen 1557). If the administration and social network providers would be allowed to access information, they would be breaching the first two provisions.

First, there is physical or electronic interference with one’s privacy. Hacking into one’s electronic devices is a violation of privacy (U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend iv, Sec. 3). For example, in Mapp v. Ohio, “Florida Supreme Court ruled that an action would be taken for intrusion of privacy, but as the case proceeded, it was realized that there were no damages caused by the intrusion” (U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend iv, Sec. 3). Thus, the US administration was justified to access the information if there would be no damage caused (U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend iv, Sec. 3). The complainants should ensure that there would be no damage caused.

The second category is public disclosure, where a person reveals information that is not of public concern (U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend iv, Sec. 3). With regard to this case, the NSA disclosed private information to companies that were close to its managers. This was against the US Constitution, and it violated human rights. In such cases, courts should investigate the competing private and public interests. It only gives the mandate of search and seizure to the government, but not to private organizations. A search “should be based on individualized distrust of wrongdoing except in cases where there are special needs” (Epistein and Walker 87). Therefore, the US administration and service providers would be breaching the Constitution.

Nonetheless, according to the Fourth Amendment, tracking phone calls is against right to privacy. For example, in 1967, in relation to Katz v. United States, the Supreme Court ruled that the search in the dispute had taken place when the government trapped a telephone booth utilizing a microphone that had been connected. With regard to this case, by using the social networks to obtain private companies’ information, the government was against the Fourth Amendment. According to the Amendment, seizure should not occur because the government would be questioning an individual in a public place (U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend iv, Sec. 3).

However, “an individual should be seized within the meaning of the Fourth Amendment only when there is physical force, and his or her freedom of movement is restricted” (U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend iv, Sec. 3). Using this argument, the government would be allowed to conduct seizure as far as it would not interfere with freedom of movement. The complainants should find out whether their rights of movements have been violated. The defendants should protect and guarantee the complainant the rights of movement and privacy.

Therefore, it is important for the parties involved in the lawsuit to respect the roles of each other. If the government allows this practice to continue, human rights, which are essential for citizens, would continue to be violated. The administration should continue utilizing other ways to apprehend criminals and terrorists in order to protect citizens.

Works Cited

Epistein, Lee and Thomas, Walker. Rights, Liberties, and Justice: Constitutional law for a changing America. 8th ed. 2012. Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press. Print.

Greenwald, Glenn, Ewen MacAskill, Laura Poitras, Spencer Ackerman and Dominic Rushe. 2013. Microsoft handed the NSA access to encrypted messages. Web.

, 389 347. Supreme Court of the US. 1967.

, 367 643. Supreme Court of the US. 1961.

Murphy, Erin. “The Politics of Privacy in the Criminal Justice System: Information Disclosure, the Fourth Amendment, and Statutory Law Enforcement Exemptions.” Michigan Law Review 111.8(2013): 485-493. Print.

Sinha, Alex. “NSA Surveillance Since 9/11 and the Human Right to Privacy.” Loy. L. Rev. 59.2(2013): 861-1049. Print.

Rosen, Jeffrey. “Deciders: The Future of Privacy and Free Speech in the Age of Facebook and Google.” Fordham L. Rev. 80.5(2011): 1525 1625. Print.

U.S. Constitution. Art./Amend iv, Sec. 3.

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IvyPanda. (2020, June 19). The Human Right to Privacy: Microsoft and the NSA. Retrieved from https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-human-right-to-privacy-microsoft-and-the-nsa/

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"The Human Right to Privacy: Microsoft and the NSA." IvyPanda, 19 June 2020, ivypanda.com/essays/the-human-right-to-privacy-microsoft-and-the-nsa/.

1. IvyPanda. "The Human Right to Privacy: Microsoft and the NSA." June 19, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-human-right-to-privacy-microsoft-and-the-nsa/.


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IvyPanda. "The Human Right to Privacy: Microsoft and the NSA." June 19, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-human-right-to-privacy-microsoft-and-the-nsa/.

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IvyPanda. 2020. "The Human Right to Privacy: Microsoft and the NSA." June 19, 2020. https://ivypanda.com/essays/the-human-right-to-privacy-microsoft-and-the-nsa/.

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IvyPanda. (2020) 'The Human Right to Privacy: Microsoft and the NSA'. 19 June.

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