Ever since Edward Snowden blew the lid off the NSA’s spying agenda, outraged Americans have pushed for surveillance reform. They’ve pushed so hard, in fact, that something actually happened in Congress: the Patriot Act died, and the USA Freedom Act, which passed on Tuesday, ends the ability of the government to collect the phone records of Americans in bulk.
But the changes don’t offer as much protection for America’s poor. Even though the majority of people on food stamps make honest purchases, for example, everything they buy with their EBT card is tracked. Yes, the same may be true of anyone who uses a credit card (with corporate spying) — but at least non-EBT users have the option of using un-trackable cash.
Conservative politicians are passing laws requiring drug testing for welfare recipients, and constantly harp on the false threat that poor Americans are just waiting for the opportunity to take advantage of taxpayers (ironic, because the U.S. spends far more on corporate welfare for behemoth companies like Walmart than welfare on the poor).
Another way the poor lose their privacy? increased presence of law enforcement in poorer neighborhoods. There’s nothing wrong with keeping the peace, but “stop and frisk” is highly invasive. Some good officers do simply protect vulnerable citizens from crime, but others use pre-existing bigotry to justify harassment and aggressive behaviors towards the neighborhood occupants.
Even though organizations like the NSA are watching Americans of all classes, it’s painfully obvious that America’s poorest citizens have the least amount of privacy of all. While allowing certain spying laws to expire is a good start, we need greater accountability in how the most vulnerable members of the public are treated.
When we start monitoring politicians more than we stalk the poor, I’ll be happy.