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Government Surveillance Essay

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Government Surveillance

Imagine a world where your every move was being monitored. A dark world where it is no secret who you are, where you have been and who you associate with; now include who you love, who you pray to and what you just ate for dinner. The word privacy doesn’t exist in such world and it is such world that we are heading to.“Big Brother is watching you!” This quote by George Orwell couldn’t have been truer. Every aspect of our lives is being sorted through as Big Data this very moment. Government surveillance has prevailed by the name of security. But, is government surveillance of internet digital communications like social networks, cell phone calls, text messages, and emails really a public service of security? Or is it simply a form of short-term security with long-term dangerous effects to the freedom of the public? How much are we willing to give up in the name of so called security? I believe that the issue of government surveillance of the internet and digital devices is a very important and relevant issue in the current day where more and more, both young and old, are logging in to social media sites, buying cell phones, and depending on services like email and “in the cloud” storage. The government’s exploitation of Internet and digital data is slowly chipping away at our privacy, our civil rights and the future of democracy itself. This issue doesn’t only affect my own privacy but also more than 75% of Americans that use the Internet. Government surveillance by the NSA (National Security Agency) is not something new. It has been going on for decades, just without our knowledge. With the recent outbreaks and leaks about the secret surveillance programs, more and more Americans are arising with privacy questions. The most well-known and recent leaks have been from ex-CIA employee and former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. It was his leaks that rattled the American community. “He succeeded beyond anything the journalists or Snowden himself ever imagined. His disclosures about the NSA resonated with Americans from day one. But they also exploded round the world” (Macaskill and Dance). Thereafter, many Americans have come forward declaring answers. Is the government collecting records of our telephone calls? Is the NSA using sources like Face book or Skype to conduct surveillance on us? The answer is yes. According to Elizabeth Gotein, co-director of the Liberty and National Security Project, a project that pursues to make sure our human rights and fundamental freedoms are respected, “The director of National Intelligence today [July 31 2013] declassified and released documents describing the National Security Agency's (NSA) ‘bulk collection’ of Americans' telephone records as taking place ‘on a very large scale’” (Gotein). Not only are American’s telephone records being stored as metadata, in addition, a personal profile of many Americans is being constructed. According to former Washington bureau chief Ewan Macaskill and multimedia journalist Gabriel Dance, “Cell phones, laptops, Face book, Skype, chat-rooms: all allow the NSA to build what it calls ‘a pattern of life’, a detailed profile of a target and anyone associated with them”(Macaskill and Dance). At this moment, a collection of what is called “Big Data”, which includes phone calls, tweets and social media posts and e-mail messages, is being stored by the government for future scrutiny. However, keep in mind that this is just a glimpse of what the government has been doing: “But like other aspects of NSA surveillance, virtually everything about this kind of NSA surveillance is highly secret and we’re left with far from a full picture” (Elliot). What we know so far of the surveillance programs that the government conducts, is just the little information that has been leaked; everything else is still kept secret. This indicates that the government possibly has many other surveillance programs that we are oblivious to. Government Surveillance programs

Why is government surveillance such an issue now if it has been going on for decades? It might be because the growing number of new technology is making it much more easier for the government to spy on its people. Government surveillance in the past was not a big threat due to the limitations on technology; however, in the current day, it has become an immense power for the government. Taylor, author of a book on Electronic Surveillance supports, "A generation ago, when records were tucked away on paper in manila folders, there was some assurance that such information wouldn't be spread everywhere. Now, however, our life stories are available at the push of a button" (Taylor 111). With more and more Americans logging into social media cites and using text-messaging devices, the more providers of metadata the government has. In her journal “The Virtuous Spy: Privacy as an Ethical Limit”, Anita L. Allen, an expert on privacy law, writes, “Contemporary technologies of data collection make secret, privacy invading surveillance easy and nearly irresistible. For every technology of confidential personal communication…there are one or more counter-technologies of eavesdropping” (Allen 1). Being in the middle of the Digital Age, we have to be much more careful of the kinds of information we put in our digital devices. Some Americans may argue that the government surveillance programs target only foreigners, that we, as Americans, are exempted from this type of scrutiny. They are even reassured by President Barrack Obama in an interview on Charlie Rose: "If you are a U.S. person, the NSA cannot listen to your telephone calls and the NSA cannot target your emails" (qtd. in Greenberg). However, Edward Snowden persists that, in fact, American are being targeted: “The NSA . . . targets the communications of everyone . . . It ingests them by default . . . and it stores them . . . simply because that's the easiest, most efficient, and most valuable way. . . . So while they may be intending to target someone associated with a foreign government or someone they suspect of terrorism, they're collecting your communications to do so" (qtd. in Greenberg). So, who is right? Who is telling the truth? Clearly, most would believe the trusted President of the United States. It is possible both, in a way, are telling the truth. The answer is to focus on their definition of “targeting”. Greenberg, former executive editor at New Hampshire Public Radio and former Washington reporter for National Public Radio, explains, “Snowden used the word target in its broadest sense. When Obama defended the program, he used it more narrowly. . . . As it turns out, FISA [the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act] uses the word both ways” (Greenberg). Some sections of the law don’t mention targeting whatsoever and even though some sections, like section 1881, prohibit the NSA to read the e-mails of Americans who are not linked to terrorism, that doesn’t mean that “the government might not end up with some of those emails in its data fi...

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