Surveillance is the systematic, routine, and focused attention to personal information for security purposes (Lyon 2). Digital scrutiny is the “new surveillance” system that has become increasingly popular among many countries in the world. This strategy has its origin in the advancement of technology, the evolution of phones, and increased access to the internet. Consequently, there are rapid changes in geographical relations of proximity, social and spatial diffusion, advancement of electronic commerce, and availability of massive personal data in the hands of second parties (Lyon 2). A collateral consequence of this is the increased threat to the public and state security, which prompts the government to embark on manipulative digital surveillance systems.
Edward Snowden, a former National Agency Security Contractor in the United States, revealed to Americans about the government’s illegal digital surveillance in 2013 (Lyon 2). In order to collect the huge amounts of data that the private companies possess, the government has extended its surveillance network and partnered with search engines, manufacturers of communication gadgets, and mobile service providers (Scott n.p). Operating Systems in phones and computers and third parties internet services (APIs) can be exploited to provide spy information to the state or third parties (Ndibwile 1). For instance, an alleged intrusive device was installed in computer network to monitor emails in California at Berkeley’s College of Natural Resources (Scott n.p). Furthermore, digital surveillance is a common practice in totalitarian regimes as such rulers are in constant fear of emancipatory power of the internet.
Security agencies are using different strategies to implement this surveillance system. First, it is alleged that government-sponsored hackers intrude search companies’ databases to collect massive information. For instance, in April 2015, cyber-hackers collected information from four million employees and political appointees. Secondly, the government has initiated laws and policies that legitimize “illegal” access of the state to personal data in emails and phone recordings. An example for this is the Patriots Act that was enacted after the 9/11 attack; this law allowed FBI to access telecommunication as well as financial and credit reports without an individual’s consent or court order. Similarly, Mark Klein, a whistleblower and a former employee of AT&T, disclosed in 2004 that the National Security Agency established a secret room in San Francisco facility where they monitored email and phone communication by enrooting all incoming emails and phone traffics (Altheide 4). These claims were supported by Thomas Tamm, a Justice Department Attorney, who confirmed that the government had interception points for emails and phone calls across America (Altheide 3). Lastly, the administration utilizes the gap in consent terms in privacy and confidentiality in Operating Systems (OS) and other software. In most cases, the wordings of the ‘terms and conditions’ are technical and the public and internet users do not read them carefully; this creates a viable ground for data sharing to the third parties.
I believe that the government has fundamental responsibility to maintain balance between public trust and security. However, this cannot be achieved through manipulation of telecommunication services and illegal digital monitoring. Even though surveillance is fundamental in promoting State security, intruding on email and phone communication without consent or court order is not only illegal but also unethical, a breach of privacy and confidentiality, and a threat to freedom of expression. The judiciary should be firm to protect our liberty; it should remain vigilant to identify any breach of human rights. Moreover, public should also demand clear explanation from the government on how they plan to guard us from criminals and terrorists. People should not surrender their liberties by agreeing to government’s corporate-run digital surveillance.
Considerably, to avoid intrusion of public privacy, security agencies should adhere to two recommendations. First, security oversight authority should be established to monitor State surveillance activities to ensure strict adherence to the existing legal framework. Secondly, there should be increased citizen participation in matters of security as an alternative to indiscriminate surveillance strategies. Citizen’s inclusion in security matters promotes public trust, government transparency, and allays fear of intrusion of the right to privacy.
Altheide, David L. “The Triumph of Fear: Connecting the Dots about Whistleblowers and Surveillance.” International Journal of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism (IJCWT) 4.1 (2014): 1-7.
Lyon, David. “Surveillance, Snowden, and Big Data: Capacities, Consequences, Critique.” Big Data & Society 1.2 (2014): 2053951714541861.
Ndibwile, Jema David, et al. “Smart4Gap: Factors that Influence Smartphone Security Decisions in Developing and Developed Countries.” Proceedings of the 2018 10th International Conference on Information Management and Engineering. ACM, 2018.
Scott Jaschik. “U of California Faculty Members Object to New Email Monitoring.” U of California Faculty Members Object to New Email Monitoring, 1 Feb. 2016, www.insidehighered.com/news/2016/02/01/u-california-faculty-members-object-new-email-monitoring. Accessed on 19 March 2019.