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Since the times of chaffy breeches and scratchy white wigs, even before the times of Pepperidge Farms, our American forefathers have capitalized on the notion that each and every individual has a set of basic human rights, one of which is the right to free speech. Along with the Freedom of Information Act passed in 1966, our country has continued to pursue this trend toward greater freedom unrelentingly. However, in the volatile, rapidly-shifting framework of our modern era, where even a fragment of technology and information has the capacity to make ground-breaking changes, our current approach towards the concept of free speech has been called into question.

In 2013, Edward Snowden, a former CIA employee, leaked an estimated 1.7 million classified documents from the National Security Agency (NSA) to several journalists without authorization and was forced to seek asylum in Russia. These documents uncovered an assortment of inflammatory global surveillance programs run in cooperation by the NSA, telecommunication companies, and some European governments. From monitoring phone calls to accessing data in fibre-optic cables, the NSA was recording several billion phone calls and hundreds of millions of SMS messages daily across the globe. They even monitored foreign embassies and American allies, including France and Latin America. Frequently called a “hero,” “whistleblower,” and “patriot,” Snowden’s actions were righteous—in the American tradition of free speech—but was the leaking of those documents just?

While the general public was infuriated by the acquired information, creating a petition that obtained over 100,000 signatures in two weeks, governmental agencies were infuriated by the leaking. According to the Washington Post, James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, said that Snowden had done “huge, grave damage” to the U.S.’s intelligence capabilities. House Intelligence Committee chairman Mike Rogers agreed, saying that Snowden’s actions severely damaged multiple ongoing military operations.

Americans do have the right to free speech, and they lawfully deserve to control whether they are monitored or not, but is having just a speck of privacy worth the drawback of losing the multitude of military capabilities that NSA-monitoring allows? While some may have seen in America the vague foreshadowings of George Orwell’s dystopian vision in 1984, where the entire country is unrelentingly monitored by an all-powerful government, others may see America’s surveillance as a necessity.

These surveillance measures have played a significant role in keeping the general populace safe from terror attacks. As Sean Joyce, deputy director of the FBI has said, American surveillance has helped prevent “potential terrorist events over 50 times since 9/11.” In one case, surveillance measures were used to convict several men for sending money to the Somali terrorist organization, Al Shabab. In another case, a potential bomb threat at the New York Stock Exchange was stopped with the aid of the NSA. All in all, many lives were potentially saved by the NSA programs leaked by Snowden.

The privacy that the public wants is not worth the security that the surveillance programs provide. For the sacrifice of pride and dignity, we are able to keep our citizens safe. Without these notions, we put the very people who seek their individual rights into danger. The government’s responsibility is first and foremost to protect its citizens. Our freedom as American citizens relies equally on our privacy and on our safety. Leaking documents that may conflict with the government’s role in ensuring this freedom is unacceptable.