If the NSA Was a Private Business, How Many Laws Would They Have Broken?


With the relative ease in which technology has been harnessed by corporations in furtherance of their marketing efforts, it begs the question of whether or not the National Security Agency, if it were a private business, would be subject to indictment for the myriad of laws that have been broken by the agency as demonstrated by the disclosures of former NSA employee Edward Snowden.  As egregious as the media makes these invasions of privacy out to be in all likelihood the NSA would not be held to task if it operated as a private business.

The reason for this counter intuitive opinion is rooted in the fact that the government agency has violated provisions of the United States Constitution, specifically speaking the 4th Amendment protections against unreasonable search and seizures, as well as setting on its head long standing notions of what qualifies as probable cause for obtaining search warrants.  As the protections afforded under the auspices of the 4th-Amendment apply only to governmental excesses, if the NSA were operating as a private entity then it would not be subject to prosecution for violating them.

Corporate Spying…

It should be no surprise that the businesses you are engaged with are interested in getting to know you better.  After all, when they know what makes your engine tick it becomes much easier to tailor a marketing message that anticipates your next buying decision.  Indeed, they have developed sophisticated marketing technologies that serve to track each and every movement of the consumer.

South Korean tech giant, LG Electronics recently acknowledges that the smart TV that you just bought is may be smarter than you ever thought possible.  That’s because while you have been watching your new television, the TV has been noting what you’ve been watching and sending the information back to the Seoul-based conglomerates corporate headquarters.  While each television set contained an “opting-out” feature, the machines failed to note the setting and continued to transmit intelligence back to LG’s corporate headquarters.  While the revelation proved embarrassing, and quickly prompted a corporate back peddling on LG’s behalf, there is no talk of prosecuting corporate executives for those intrusions of privacy.

Life is an Open Book…

Technology and our need to stay connected have combined to create a utopia for snoopers looking for personal information on just about everyone.  Indeed, the propensity with which we jump online to update our statuses, complain on YELP, and Tweet our innermost thoughts, our lives have become an open book that is readily accessible to anyone armed with the skills to push past your security firewalls.  Whether they are the NSA or KFC, our expectations of privacy have long since been altered from what they were prior to the opening of the information super highway.  Companies are now hiring computer engineers to help with boosting their information security.

Who Watches the Watchmen?

Prior to deciding whether or not the NSA would be held accountable for their actions if they operated in the private sector, it would be instructive to see if they are held accountable for their transgressions in the public forum.  Despite serious concerns about the constitutionality of their actions on the behalf of watch-dog and civil liberty groups, little has changed in terms of curtailing the illegal practices.  Since bipartisan support has lined up in Congress in defense of the NSA tactics, it appears unlikely that they will be held to task for those tactics in the near future.

Since the question was first posited in antiquity by the Roman poet Juvenal, “Who will watch the watchmen?” the query has excited sharp debate whenever the heavy hand of government tyranny is suspected of encroaching upon civil liberties under the guise of national security.  At this stage, the answer is readily apparent…no one is watching the watchmen.