Acton Institute Powerblog

What’s Wrong with NSA Surveillance?

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spyingThe stunning news that the United States may be the most surveilled society in human history has opened a fierce debate on security, privacy, and accountability, says Timothy George, dean of Beeson Divinity School. He says religious believers should be particularly concerned:

Persons of faith should be deeply concerned about the current surveillance flap not because privacy is an absolute end in itself but rather because it points to and safeguards something else even more basic and fundamental, namely, human dignity. According to Vatican II’s Declaration on Religious Freedom, Dignitatis Humanae, real dignity requires that human beings “should act on their own judgment, enjoying and making use of a responsible freedom, not driven by coercion but motivated by sense of duty.” Such responsible freedom is the basis for both the establishment of friendships and the maintenance of family life. Without the possibility of non-coercive self-disclosure, which is vitiated by unfettered intrusion, such relationships are fatuous.

In the same way, conscientious religious commitment also requires a personal fiducial response to the divine. Thus religious freedom presupposes the recognition of privacy as an expression of human dignity. By no means is this a strictly Catholic or even Christian issue. The Southern Baptist Convention was right to pass a resolution at its annual meeting in Houston this month defining religious liberty as “the freedom of the individual to live in accordance with his or her religiously informed values and beliefs,” and citing in support Article 18 of the United Nations Declaration on Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship, and observance.”

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Joe Carter Joe Carter is a Senior Editor at the Acton Institute. Joe also serves as an editor at the The Gospel Coalition, a communications specialist for the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, and as an adjunct professor of journalism at Patrick Henry College. He is the editor of the NIV Lifehacks Bible and co-author of How to Argue like Jesus: Learning Persuasion from History's Greatest Communicator (Crossway).


  • RogerMcKinney

    No one cares much about surveillance when they think good people are in charge. They never consider that some day an evil ruler may take office. Evil people can do a lot of harm with the powers we give good rulers.

    Many Christians are upset about the courts and states legalizing homosexual marriage, but our Christian ancestors gave the state those powers decades ago when they thought only good men would ever be in positions of power.

    We should always consider how an evil person might use a law before passing it.

    • Curt Day

      Disagree with you here. Though the slippery slope of what happens when those who are evil get power is a very legitimate concern, the ethical quality of our leaders does not give them the right, regardless of how moral, to have unconditional access to what we say and write in private. In addition, we should note that most of the worst and murderous leaders in the world have claimed to be good and those claims are often made to rationalize power grabbing.

      • I don’t think RogerMcKinney meant that rulers have the right to look into our private sayings and writings. I think that he was addressing the selective criticism of power groups that seem to occur amongst conservative Christians and Republicans.

        • Curt Day

          Have to disagree with you here. He states that it doesn’t matter if good leaders have access to that information. The 4th amendment doesn’t make that distinction.