Government Surveillance vs Privacy Essay

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Is the American government trustworthy? Edward Joseph Snowden (2013) released to the United States press* selected information about the surveillance of ordinary citizens by the U.S.A.’s National Security Agency (N.S.A.), and its interconnection to phone and social media companies. The motion picture Citizenfour (2014), shows the original taping of those revelations. Snowden said that some people do nothing about this tracking because they have nothing to hide. He claims that this inverts the model of responsibility. He believes that everyone should encrypt Internet messages and abandon electronic media companies that track personal information and Internet behavior (op.cit, 2014). Snowden also stressed to Lawrence Lessig (2014) the importance of the press and the first amendment (Lessig – Snowden Interview Transcript, [16:28]). These dynamics illustrate Lessig’s (2006) constrain-enable pattern of powers that keep society in check (2006, Code: Version 2.0, p. 122). Consider Lessig’s (2006) question what is “the threat to liberty?” (2006, p. 120). Terrorism is a real threat (Weber, 2013). Surveillance by social media and websites, rather than the government, has the greater negative impact on its users.

What is the historic context of surveillance, whose current form is electronic? We now know that the N.S.A. has no fewer than 46 surveillance programs (three in conjunction with the UK’s GCHQ) as described by surveillance reporter Julia Angwin (2014). For example:

Prism collects data from the servers of U.S. technology companies
Squeaky Dolphin (UK) monitors YouTube video views, URLS "Liked” on Facebook and Blogger visits
Bullrun, a joint UK and US program weakens cryptography (2014, chart)

Surveillance, however, is as old as man. Anthony Zurcher (2013) for the BBC said, “Chinese general Sun Tzu [in 544 - 496 BC] wrote…‘Enlightened rulers and good generals who are able to obtain intelligent agents as spies are certain for great achievements’" (Zurcher, 2013). Surveillance has been around for centuries.

Ancient Rome had mechanisms for surveillance. The eavesdropping, of course, was done directly by people with no electronic mediation. Col. Rose Mary Sheldon (2000) of the Virginia Military Institute wrote that supply sergeants were employed to collect information because they came and went openly in the course of distributing grain. H...

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... E. (2011). The net delusion. The dark side of internet freedom. New York, NY, USA: PublicAffairs.

Poitras, L, Bonnefoy, M., & Wilutzky, D. (Producers), & Poitras, L. (Director). (2014, October 24). Citizenfour [Motion Picture]. United States: The Weinstein Company.

Sheldon, Col. R. M., Virginia Military Institute. (2000). Military History Quarterly, Autumn,pp. 28-33. Retrieved from on 11/29/2014.

TEDSalon. (2014, June). Hubertus Knabe: The dark secrets of a surveillance state. TED. Retrieved from on 11/17/2014.

Weber, P. (2013, June 12). 6 reasons you should, and shouldn't, freak out about the NSA data-mining. The Week. Retrieved from on 11/29/2014. how we should balance national security with civil liberties.

Zurcher. A. (2013, October 31). Roman Empire to the NSA: A world history of government spying. BBC News Magazine. Retrieved from on 11/29/2014

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