Government Surveillance Analysis

Surveillance refers to the government’s efforts to gather information about individuals without gaining access to their private lives. Communication, physical, and transactional surveillance are the three types of surveillance. Physical surveillance entails real-time observation of people’s physical activities, whereas communication surveillance entails real-time interceptions of communications (Slobogin 3). Transaction surveillance, on the other hand, refers to having access to recorded information about an individual’s activities and interactions, as well as other dealings. The practice and concept of government surveillance in the United States can be traced back to World War I, when censorship and wartime monitoring of international communications passing through the country were commonplace. The period after the first and second world wars showed the practice continues through many programs such as Project SHAMROCK and Black Chamber. Subsequently, the formation of federal law enforcement and intelligence agencies such as the NSA, FBI, and CIA as well as the policing agencies led to the institutionalization of government surveillance. The primary aim then was to silence political dissent that the Civil Rights Movement fostered. In 1946 through 1955, the aspect of government surveillance in the U.S. evolved to incorporate Five Eyes (Five English speaking nations) through a formation of international UKUSA surveillance agreement. The focus was to intercept electronic communications across the countries to improve the country’s capabilities on issues relating to domestic surveillance.
Given the status of security in the United States on one side and the need to enjoy fundamental freedoms and liberties provided in the constitution, different people uphold divergent opinions on the issue of government surveillance. Some argue that government surveillance is good for national security and as such, the security of a nation to take precedence over the rights of individuals. Conversely, the critics of such arguments believe that government surveillance foster negative impacts on the liberties of its citizens and hence should be regulated through legislations and courts litigations. Accordingly, this paper outlines different issues relating to government surveillance and takes a position that is against the practice in its analysis.
The government attention on domestic and international surveillance took a sharper turn following the 9/11 attacks. The attacks coupled a series of four coordinated events by Islamic terrorist group leading to the killing thousands of individuals. As a result, the government capabilities in mass surveillance escalated beyond the permits of the Bill of Rights and the U.S. Constitution. Enactment of laws and regulations that increased monitoring of citizens activities and information then followed suit. Such laws include the precise act, Patriot Act and FISA amendment act among others. Such regulations have since led to an increase in government surveillance activities since 2001 at the expense of the liberties and privacy of citizens.
There were a series of media reports in 2013 outlining the recent government programs that have intensified mass surveillance in the country (McVeigh par. 1). The programs aid the U.S. intelligence community to carry out their surveillance role with the aim of ensuring the security of the nation from internal or external threats. Nevertheless, the critics of the programs argue that they infringe on the rights of individuals enshrined in the Fourth Amendment. They also argue that such practice has far led to the profiling of ethnic minorities such as Latino Americans and African-Americans leading to unfair and illogical deportations with the view of maintaining national security.
Currently, the issue of government surveillance has taken center stage in the daily conversations among individuals as well as in the social and mainstream media (Marthews 5). Privacy of individuals faces growing threats from the increasing levels of surveillance perpetrated by surveillance apparatus of the government in the name of national security. While proponents of the practice may argue that it is the role of the state to protect its citizens against security threats by any means, the opponents dismiss their premises as against the sovereign will of the people and the fundamental liberties. They argue that agencies such as the National Security, the Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and local and state law enforcement institutions mandated to offer such protections and assurance intrude upon the private conversations of innocent citizens. They amass vast databases of the people one calls when he/she calls as well as his/her suspicious catalog activities.
The activities the government agencies consider suspicious are based on the vaguest standards that may not show a true reflection of an individual’s behavior and plans. The collection of sensitive information considered suspicions from individuals is in itself an invasion of privacy and may characterize an abuse of the use of the data. Such abuse may occur when the government feeds innocuous data into bloated watch lists that have severe consequences. Notably, the privacy infringement occurs due to the ability of the surveillance to reveal when one sleeps, wakes up, goes to work, his/her friends, number of calls he/she makes on a particular day, social aptitude, habits, family relations as well as political and civic affiliations. Besides, the surveillance allows the NSA to track calls that people make to particular support groups or helplines for assistance such as abortion clinics, sexual assault, and domestic violence among others.
According to American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), government surveillance through collection and tracking of phone call data of the Citizens of the United States by the National Security Agency is a violation of the constitution and as such, has an alarming effect on first amendment rights (McVeigh par. 14). In a court motion that ACLU filed in 2013, the union warned that a continued role of government in long-term surveillance activities through NSA will make it assemble a splendidly detailed profile of every individual in the U.S. and as such, draw a comprehensive map of the associations of such people with one another. Being against government surveillance, the union argues that it allows an essentially indefinite surveillance to run across the United States. While the authority may argue that the surveillance play a fundamental role in counter-terrorism, a responsibility they are mandated to take, the union believe that the program oversteps its bounds (McVeigh par. 8). Therefore, the chilling effect of the program is evident as any individuals who are willing to approach a plaintiff with proof of misconduct is likely to wary of the government receiving every communication he/she engages in and as such, affects the legal proceedings and determination of different cases in the country.
Besides, government surveillance is not as good as the security agencies want people to believe as it affects the rooting of good governance in the society as well as the freedom of individuals to express their views irrespective of the positions they hold in the country. For instance, whistleblowers may find it difficult to seek legal counsel due to the fear of surveillance and government employees may fear reprisals due to the political views that they hold in the society. Furthermore, surveillance is increasingly becoming a means for societal control in different western societies as the idea that government is watching creates fear hence becomes a mechanism for controlling citizens though forced conformism, submission and obedience.
The modern environment has led to the advancement of government surveillance to include the use of sophisticated technologies such as global positioning and data mining systems, which pose a significant threat to the legitimate freedom of citizens to express who they are, what the feel and what they want (Slobogin 4). As such, it diminishes the autonomy of every person living in the United States or any other part of the world where intelligence agencies involve itself in such practices. Therefore, government involvement in physical, communication and transactional surveillance should be subject to adequate regulations given its negative impacts on the country as it affects the relationship between the citizens and the government (Slobogin 4). Hence, the primary basis of the law that should regulate government surveillance should not be based on legislative agenda that depends on daily security breaches in the country. It should instead be constitutional and take into considerations the provisions of the legal document of the United States. As such, government surveillance is a deceptive assault to the freedom of the citizens of the U.S. and the failure of the courts to apply the law to respond to the issue instigates its impact. The government continued engagement is monitoring actions, communications and transactions of individuals characterize the assault while the failure of the legislature and courts to address the problem characterizes their inability to promote and protect the liberty of individuals (Slobogin 5).
Other arguments against government surveillance entail its intrusive nature and morality concerns that characterize the practice. Arguably, there is no justified government surveillance because individuals have rights to be free from any form of unjustified intrusions from any external sources or the government itself. The government should, therefore, allow citizens to live their lives freely while offering adequate protection from others rather than oppressing them. As such, the government should stop spying on its citizens and instead device effective and acceptable techniques to solve the issues of national security. Besides, it should enact strict laws that protect the people and not those that allow it to spy on them.
The theory of high tech surveillance by the government lead to access to financial records of individuals including the transactions and purchases they make, an act that creates worries among them as they consider the apprehension of living in a society where the government is aware of every financial information of individuals. The practice, in turn, affects the financial privacy of individuals which also the growth of the private sector. The privacy paradox creates a long-term concern about fiscal discretion and as such, the need for adequate regulations to prevent the government from engaging in its continued role of surveillance.
Furthermore, government surveillance adversely affects the online political participation of individuals (Krueger 439). The increased government’s capabilities in electronic surveillance affect the use of the internet to express or write political opinions (Krueger 439). For instance, individuals who oppose their political leadership or administration and are aware that the government monitors online communications may not engage in such platforms as avenues of political engagements and communication. Besides, the ways people interact on the internet continue to change as a result of growing knowledge of issues relating to mass surveillance. While individuals change their levels of online interactions due to government surveillance, it also changes their habits. For example, many people tend to mask their digital footprints when using the internet such as clearing cookies to enable encryptions of their emails. Such actions show the adverse effect of government surveillance on the people and as such, the reason for the argument against the practice.
The government has over the years, relied on the Patriot Act to carry out its surveillance activities. The Act initiated many changes to the surveillance laws and in turn allowed the government to spy on ordinary citizens by monitoring their emails and phone conversations, track their activities on the internet as well as collect credit or bank reporting records as aforementioned in the previous sections of this paper (Etzioni 18). Based on the arguments against the role of the government in surveillance activities, it is not a good practice for the intelligence agencies to track the activities of the citizens to achieve intended results of combating terrorism.
While applying the Patriot Act and other laws and regulations to engage in surveillance, the government engages in an apparent act of violations of the Fourth Amendment that plays a fundamental role in protecting the U.S. citizens from unreasonable seizures as well as searches. For instance, applying Section 206 of the Patriot Act to carry out surveillance involves allowing law enforcement and intelligence agencies as well as investigative authorities to target particular individuals frequently changing telephone lines through wiretaps (Etzioni 18). Notably, wiretapping every individual derail the work of intelligence agencies since instead of focusing on specific targets, they engage in bulk data collection, which makes everyone a target of the criminal activity under investigation. As a result, the government surveillance is not a good practice and hence should be done away with through adequate and effective policies.
Additionally, government surveillance alters the behavior of people as they become conscious about the government involvement in their activities. As such, many individuals tend to limit the extent of their conversations, activities, and expressions due to the belief that their actions are likely to get to a third party (the government). Therefore, corporations, governments and other institutions of power crave surveillance since the likelihood of being spied on often make individuals change their collective behavior radically (Marthews 5). Besides, government surveillance leads to a creation of profiles of individuals, which are then used to predict their future behavior based on their past activities. Consequently, such a practice leads to flawed predictions and assumptions that characterize bias and disproportionately target racial minorities hence the reason for another argument against government surveillance.
The government considers conversational information collected from individuals through surveillance as metadata, a vague term that causes more confusion and as it allows the government to map the activities and networks of individuals, which in turn have profound implications. For example, a country whose laws do not recognize LGBT rights may make it difficult for a gay person to seek health care services since a simple act of making a call would make the government know of his intentions.
Surveillance entails the efforts of the government to gather information about individuals without entry into private spaces. The three types of surveillance include communication, physical and transaction. Essentially, government surveillance dates back to the period of World War 1 when censorship of international communications was a norm. Currently, the issue of government surveillance has taken center stage in the daily conversations between individuals and the social and mainstream media. As outlined, the privacy of individuals faces growing threats from the increasing levels of surveillance perpetrated by surveillance apparatus of the government in the name of national security. Government surveillance affects the rooting of good governance in the society as well as the freedom of individuals to express their views irrespective of the positions they hold in the country. It also acts fosters deceptive assault to the freedom of the citizens of the U.S. and its intrusive nature and morality concerns that characterize it affects the lives of ordinary citizens.
At times, government surveillance goes beyond the limits of national security to include spying on not for profit organizations. Such acts become unproductive since they show the government focusing its efforts on essential groups that protect individual freedom. Therefore, based on the abuse of privacy that the practice of government surveillance upholds, there is a need to look into ways through which such practices may be abolished or minimized.

Works CitedBottom of Form

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.
Etzioni, Amitai. How patriotic is the Patriot Act?: freedom versus security in the age of terrorism. Routledge, 2005.
Joh, Elizabeth E. “Privacy protests: Surveillance evasion and fourth amendment suspicion.” (2013).
Kerr, Orin S. “The Fourth Amendment and the Global Internet.” Stan. L. Rev. 67 (2015): 285.
Krueger, Brian S. “Government surveillance and political participation on the Internet.” Social science computer review 23.4 (2005): 439-452.
Marthews, Alex, and Catherine E. Tucker. “Government surveillance and internet search behavior.” (2015).
McCoy, Kevin. “Government Surveillance in the US. Privacy versus Security.” (2015).
McVeigh, Karen. NSA surveillance program violates the constitution, ACLU says. 2013. Retrieved from
Richards, Neil M. “The dangers of surveillance.” Harvard Law Review 126.7 (2013): 1934-1965.
Slobogin, Christopher. Privacy at Risk: The New Government Surveillance and the Fourth Amendment. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007. Internet resource.

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