Big Brother's watching

by person5678 on April 21, 2017 - 1:32pm

Since technology is constantly evolving, our governments must also improve and evolve simultaneously in order to keep their populations safe. As these technologies are becoming wide spread, the need for regulations become even more necessary in order to maintain order and to control the misuse of it. In 2013, a top-secret program named PRISM was leaked from U.S intelligence (Washington Post, 2013) and ignited the controversy between the rights to privacy versus better protection for the population as a whole. This program “gained access from nine internet companies to a wide range of digital information including e-mails and stored data” (Washington Post, 2013). PRISM is an American entity, but it also operates outside the U.S borders to collect data on foreign targets (Washington Post, 2013). Although many individuals feel uneasy knowing governments have access to such information, online surveillance is needed to protect the greatest number even if it infringes on individual’s privacy. 

Many might argue that online government surveillance is morally incorrect as it over steps on individuals right to privacy. Programs like PRISM, collect personal information from major internet companies that the majority of the population use when online. Individuals who use these sites like; Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Apple and a few others, often share a lot about themselves and it is wrong for governments to collect information without an individual’s knowledge or approval (Washington Post, 2013). However, once individuals are aware that they can be or are being watched they tend to act differently, and may behave in the way that they think is favorable for those watching.  The knowledge that one is being watched can result in similar unconscious reactions. Being under surveillance also leads to the restriction of one’s agency and their capacity to make independent choices. The process of limiting reactions and possible interactions is directly related to the fear of how information is analyzed when under surveillance. When the basic right to privacy is challenged and individuals alter their behavior because of surveillance it does not fall within the utilitarian framework. However, the impact of change that surveillance brings upon the population cannot be determined. Ideally in a perfect world, the basic right to privacy should be protected. Being utilitarian in perspective, protecting privacy is essential to protecting people’s freedom regarding the choices they make. “These technologies potentially enable small groups of people to control and restrict freedom of a larger number” therefore over stepping on the agency of a much larger population of people (Lempert, 2013). Ultimately, when people’s freedom is protected, the greater number benefit from the greater good.  

However, one could argue that online government surveillance is not trying to step on individual’s privacy, but rather trying to better protect their populations. Governments “always have been engaged in surveillance activities” whether it be behind a computer screen or on the streets (Holland, 2013). As the Internet and our virtual world grows, governments have no choice to police the internet to protect its citizens. With “the rapid development of computing technologies and the social, political and economic practices that have shaped and been shaped by this development” has led to governments being involved and implementing regulations and polices (Brown, 2014). Our society has changed and it is only normal that our governments adapt with these changes. It would be irresponsible to ask them to keep a blind eye to this new virtual world. Online surveillance “with the security interest of detecting and preventing terrorist attacks” is extremely positive for society (Moore, 2011). The utilitarian framework definitely supports online government surveillance, as its intended purpose is to protect the greatest number for the greatest good.   Online surveillance would not only protect numerous individuals but also “our institutions and markets [whom] need to be protected from foreign invasions, plagues, and terrorism” (Moore, 2011). The protection that comes with online government surveillance also comes with “the idea that our security interests are almost always more weighty that the minimal cost of surveillance… privacy intrusions are a mere nuisance and are easily traded for increases in security” (Moore, 2011). Most individuals see privacy as an easier trade in than security because security protects the most important fundamental right, which is the right to life. “Privacy may protect important interests, but these will never rise to the level of security of life and limb” (Moore, 2011).

It is clear that there is a dilemma on whether online government surveillance should or shouldn’t be allowed, as it comes down to privacy versus security. Although, “most [individuals] are apparently fine with” government surveillance, as “about half of Canadians (49%) believe it is acceptable for the government to monitor email and other online activities… [and] when circumstances include preventing future terrorist attacks that number rises to 77%” (Holland, 2013). Those who are against government surveillance are most critical of the government’s lack of transparency and the deception regarding how the surveillance data is collected. An easy and plausible solution to this would be to simply inform the population on what the government is doing. Many “civil society groups are campaigning for greater transparency of surveillance activities, [and] with the publication of details of surveillance programs” this would allow individuals to have a better understanding and evaluate the information accurately (Brown, 2014).  If Individuals were aware of the exact actions of the government regarding surveillance, and how the information is used it would most likely increase its acceptance of surveillance initiatives. Individuals might think negatively towards government surveillance if they think that the government is trying to hide what they are doing. Individuals fear the unknown, and do not want to be left ignorant to what the government is doing. With more transparency, online surveillance can be affective as well as useful to many governments and their populations. It is also important to mention that although surveillance has the potential to know the private details of one’s life, it’s main objective is to survey illegal activities in order to not get bogged down with miscellaneous information. Surveillance is focused on information, which may have the potential threat or harm. Any other surveillance would not be effective as the sorting of information would take to much time and it would be extremely expensive.  

In conclusion, online government surveillance is necessary in our present day society in order to keep the world safe. Government surveillance does infringe on individuals privacy by having access to their private information, although the government’s main goal is to detect and prevent possible attacks not looking at information that is irrelevant to national or worldwide security. Without the protestation of privacy issues on government surveillance, our governments would be able to be more effective when protecting everyone. This can be important when trying to bring the greatest good to the greatest number.


Work cited:

Brown, I. (2014). Social media surveillance. The international encyclopedia of digital communication and society.

Holland, B. (2013, August 28). Putting blinders on Big Brother's surveillance apparatus. National Post.

Lempert, R. (2013, June 13). PRISM and boundless informant: is NSA surveillance a threat? Brookings .

Moore, A. D. (2011). Privacy, security, and government surveillance: wikileaks and the   accountability. Public affairs quarterly, 25(2).


NSA slides explain the PRISM data-collection programs. (2013, June 06). The Washington Post.