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NSA Snooping

Thursday, 20 June, 2013 - 8:00 am

Edward Snowden became a household name as he joined the ranks of world-famous whistle blowers. With high-level security clearance Edward had access to some of the most important—and most secret—programs at the NSA, including the monitoring of U.S. citizens’ phone calls and emails which he went public with after fleeing to Hong Kong.

Without getting into the argument of whether the government should invade our privacy to protect us from terrorism, one thing is clear: Complete privacy does not exist. The government can access all our emails, phone calls, text messages and Google searches. Everything we do on our computers and beyond can be saved, studied and passed around—all without our consent.

But finding out the details of our lives is not only the domain of government. And much of this virtual voyeurism is done with our implicit – albeit unknowing - consent.

Nowadays it’s quite possible to meet someone for the first time and hear all about your own life.  She might divulge your birthday, your childhood friends and schools, your favorite foods and colors and perhaps some relationships or activities you wish never existed.

Welcome to the Facebook/Google/Twitter/SMS/Tumblr/Pinterest/etc generation.  All types of information is shared and passed around.

Without delving into the debate about illegal snooping, we have a lot of legal snooping going on right under our noses. Is this good or bad?

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Strong arguments can be made about the benefits of Facebook and their ilk in reuniting long-lost siblings and preventing crime.  But what should my attitude be toward my and someone else’s information?

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Bilaam, the non-Jewish prophet who attempted to curse the Jews but ended up blessing the nation, declared, “How good are your tents Jacob, your dwellings Israel.” 

The Talmud suggests that what impressed Bilaam was, “that the doors of the Jewish people’s tents were not aligned opposite each other, where-upon he exclaimed, ‘They are worthy of hosting the divine presence!’”

In other words, privacy was an important characteristic of the Jewish people, which G-d cherishes dearly.  In fact, based upon this virtue, the Talmud rules that doors and windows of homes should not be constructed opposite each other.  Privacy is such a vital value in Judaism that it even affects zoning laws!

Judaism does not maintain that privacy is simply a right. It is actually a societal obligation, which is why – in certain situations – it may not be waived.

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Although Facebook and Google may share other people’s information with me, it does not mean I need to look. And although the vehicle of social media gives me ample opportunity to broadcast my private life, not every opportunity need be seized upon.

The next time I am tempted to share something private perhaps I should ask myself, ‘Would I be comfortable posting this on my living room wall, highly visible to all visitors to my home? Does it merit that level of dignity?’ And when others’ information is available, I might consider whether I am inviting G-d into my life by partaking of theirs.

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