Government Surveillance vs Privacy

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Spying is nothing new to the world. History books tell us that ancient civilizations like the Roman Empire, Egypt, Chine, India, and so on used it. On top of that, 1900s regimes like the Former Soviet Union and Nazi’s Germany used spying tactics around the world wars. The main use of spying at that time mostly was for political and military advantage. These countries were successful on spying. However, in the 21st century surveillance is used in different and very complicated way. So many crimes and terrorist attacks forced governments around the world to use electronic surveillance to protect their own people. This electronic surveillance is very complicated and you don’t even know it is happening and you are the target. The US government is the main leader on this. For years the US government used eavesdropping and wire tapping to catch criminals (Landau 301). People debated on the issues, but it was left unanswered. In 2013, surveillance became the nation wide debate topic, once again after Edward Snowdon’s leakage of classified information from the NSA. From the leaked information evidence shows that NSA is surveilling millions of innocent people, illegally. Now, the US government took the use of surveillance to the next level. This level is unprecedented and unheard in human history. The government uses internet to surveil people’s private information; this got my attention and I started to search for reasons. And NSA makes only one argument when asked why they surveil. TERRORISM or CRIME. Then I asked myself; why surveil innocent people who have done absolutely nothing? In this case, I looked around some sources and decided that the government should stop surveilling people illegally. The government should find different ways to stop terrorism and crimes or they should only surveil people with history of violence. On top of that, people should also worry about big companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter, Amazon, Citibank, and so on. This is because they have also our private information like the government and there is more chances of private information leaking.

Like I mentioned earlier, several things happening around us that we don’t recognize in today’s world,. One of the things is the surveillance program. When I walk around in the city I live, I see cameras installed almost outside of every apartments complex, big buildings, and so on. However, that is not what worries me the most.

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What worries me the most is internet surveilling. This is because no-body knows if somebody is surveilling or not. People have no idea and they cannot hide from it. According to Glenn Greenwald – a political journalist, constitutional lawyer, and columnist who broke the Edward Snowden’s story of NSA surveillance secrets to public the US government surveils our emails, bank accounts, text messages, our phone calls, and so on (187). The people who surveil us can know almost everything about us and if it is possible they can use our private information for them. You never know. We have to understand that it is very possible in today’s world. People want advantage over others. However, some people gave some stupid answer when asked about the issue. They say that they have nothing to hide. Stephanie Bird, a neuroscientist and co-editor of the journal Science and Engineering Ethics says that people said to her ‘‘I am not worried about privacy. I don’t have anything to hide” ( qtd in Bird). In Greenwald’s book, people who said they don’t care privacy when asked to give their passwords of emails, and other social media accounts, they say nope (171). However, people know that any leak of secrets is open to misinterpretation and unconscious assumptions (Bird). This is very true. In today’s world, people just need one reason to turn your life upside down. Personally, I don’t want other people to know about my private stuff. This is because they can use it to hurt me. You can disagree with me but I can say that almost everyone who has a family or who doesn’t have a family, doesn’t want somebody to know their private stuff. If they say they have nothing to hide. That is flat out lie. In today’s world so many people go to see psychiatrist. Why do these people go their and tell all their secrets to psychiatrist? Why not tell to random people? This is because they don’t want others to know their life. That is called privacy.

Mass electronic surveillance by US government started after the 9/11 tragedy and increasing global terrorism treats, which forced the US government and intelligence agencies around the world to change their old tools and embrace new powerful electronic devices to avoid major tragedies and protect their people. A former president of American Society of Journalists and Authors says that these agencies believe that surveilling can save lives and prevent a catastrophic events from happening (Greengard). This is true sometimes. Susan Landau, a former privacy analyst at Google and cybersecurity expert mentions that, in 2002 phone taping helped the NSA to kill Al-Qaeda agent and many other small plots (111). However, surveillance didn’t stop Boston marathon bombing. Even though, cameras around the buildings helped FBI and law enforcements to catch them. This is one of the reasons why surveilling is not working. This is because nine out of ten times it won’t help to stop the tragedies. It only helps to catch the suspects. Then, other than that for what does the government uses surveillance? Well, Greenwald says that most the time the government uses surveillance to surveil people who express their views (187). I wonder how many of them are Muslims. Most of the time Muslims take the blame for terrorist attacks. Nevertheless what the government doing is totally wrong. People all over the world want to come to the US because there are opportunities to become a better person and to express your views as much as you want. When you hear that the government is surveilling you because you are expressing yourself is really sad. Very very sad.

Furthermore, the US government is surveilling thousands of transactions every single day. One of the NSA document says ”Collect it all. Sniff it all. Know it all. Process it all. Exploit it all (Munk Debate on State Surveillance).” This is just bad. They are doing everything they want. They are clearly trying to know everything about us. Another very disturbing thing about NSA was that it was surveilling “communications of the Brazilian oil giant Petrobras… elected leaders of allied states,” and German chancellor Angela Merkel (Greenwald 202). What? The US government clearly says that it is using surveillance to prevent terrorist attacks, however somehow it surveils a leader of a country that is friendly to us. From this you can understand that the US government is using surveillance for more than just security. I think like 1900s regimes the US government is using surveillance to get advantage on something other than security over other countries.

Privacy is essential to human freedom and happiness for reasons that are rarely discussed but instinctively understood by most people, as evidenced by the lengths to which they go to protect their own. To begin with, people radically change their behavior when they know they are being watched. They will strive to do that which is expected of them. They want to avoid shame and condemnation. They do so by adhering tightly to accepted social practices, by staying within imposed boundaries, avoiding action that might be seen as deviant or abnormal (Greenwald 127).

This is very very true. I personally cannot do things right when there is camera around me or even when people look at me. I get confused. In this case, my focus goes away from what I’m doing. My performance and effectiveness decreases rapidly. I think most of the people agree with me that we are creative and intelligent when we are independent and when there is nothing to disrupt us. All of these things lay under privacy. Without privacy we won’t do any of these things. So, surveillance disrupts our behavior, which is very bad for our living. We need room to breath.

This majestic cartoonist image is made by David Horsey. It is showing us what the NSA and big companies are doing to us. They are making us naked. This is true. Big companies like Google, Facebook, Twitter,Amazon, and Citibank have as much information as the government. In this case, we need to worry about them as well. This is because our personal information is in every hands of big companies and there is more chance that one day our data leaked and our life might change drastically. According to a researcher and Cybersecurity person “Microsoft and Skype, Google and YouTube, Yahoo!, Facebook, PalTalk, AOL and Apple (Guarino)”, we trusted to give our personal information, provided our data for the government. Which is sad. There is no-one you can trust.

The US Constitution and courts say that conversations in private location should not be heard by third party and using electronic tools for spying people violates 4th amendment rights. However, the law enforcements are not listening. They are continued connecting a “bug” to a telephone line to record a conversation. On top of that, they pushed Congress to pass laws on electronic surveillance and wiretapping such as Electronic Communications Privacy Act (ECPA)) in 1986, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) in 1978, and Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act in 2006. The 9/11 tragedy made things even worse by giving NSA more freedom for domestic warrantless wiretapping to prevent future attacks (Electronic Surveillance). An expert on Information Technology and Telecommunications Law says that this gave the government to target almost everyone (Irion). This led to Electronic Frontier Foundation(EFF) to file unsuccessful lawsuits against NSA (Greengard). This was a beginning. People pressured and asked the government what exactly it’s doing with their private information after Edward Snowdon’s leakage of classified information from the NSA. The government constantly answered that private information is secured and they use it only for security purposes (Munk Debate on State Surveillance).

If you ask people what they prefer over security and privacy, most of them we’ll say security. In that case, they will also say yes for surveillance. This is easy to understand because there is no privacy without security. However, documents leaked over and over again show us that surveilling is ineffective and there are very little evidence of surveillance helping us from preventing crimes and tragedies (Landau, Greenwald, Munk Debate on State Surveillance). Sadly, because of that the government started to use for other things. From surveilling a country leader to surveilling a single person’s private life. Right now, people are doing things in fear that government is watching them. Their brain is controlled. Right now, people are becoming hesitant to do things especially on internet. This is because they think that somebody is watching what they doing. In this case, surveillance is preventing us from doing what we want to do. For this reason, no solution is found. Some people continued asking the government to stop it. However, the government is trying to persuade them by saying that it is using to protect them. Right now, there is no solution, but people are debating about it. Which is good. Which side are you? Privacy or Security?

Works Cited

Bird, Stephanie. “Security and Privacy: Why Privacy Matters.” Science & Engineering Ethics Sept. 2013: 669+. Academic Search Complete. Web. 11 Oct. 2014.

“Electronic Surveillance.” Legal Information Institute. Cornell Law School, n.d. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

Greengard, Samuel. “Spies Among Us?.” Communications Of The ACM 53.4 (2010):17- 18. Academic Search Complete. Web. 30 Sept. 2014.

Greenwald, Glenn. “Chapter 4.” No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and theU.S. Surveillance State.1st ed. New York: Metropolitan, 2014. 170-210. Print.

Guarino, Alessandro. “The State Vs The People.” Engineering & Technology (17509637)8.10 (2013): 43-45. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.

Horsey, David. NSA Surveillance Program Is One of Many Big Brothers Watching. Digital image. Los Angeles Times. Los Angeles Times, 12 June 2013. Web. 21 Oct. 2014.

Irion, Kristina. “Privacy And Security: International Communications Surveillance.”Communications Of The ACM 52.2 (2009): 26-28. Academic Search Complete. Web. 1 Oct. 2014.

Landau, Susan. “Chapter 5.” Surveillance or Privacy. Cambridge: MIT, 2011. 107+.Print.

Munk Debate on State Surveillance. Dir. Rudyard Griffiths. Perf. Greenwald/Ohanian vs Hayden/Dershowitz. North American Association of Independent Journalists. Munk Debates, 2 May 2014. Web.


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