What Is Mass Surveillance Essay
Your Life, Under Constant Surveillance
Historically, surveillance was difficult and expensive.
Over the decades, as technology advanced, surveillance became easier and easier. Today, we find ourselves in a world of ubiquitous surveillance, where everything is collected, saved, searched, correlated and analyzed.
But while technology allowed for an increase in both corporate and government surveillance, the private and public sectors took very different paths to get there. The former always collected information about everyone, but over time, collected more and more of it, while the latter always collected maximal information, but over time, collected it on more and more people.
Corporate surveillance has been on a path from minimal to maximal information. Corporations always collected information on everyone they could, but in the past they didn't collect very much of it and only held it as long as necessary. When surveillance information was expensive to collect and store, companies made do with as little as possible.
Telephone companies collected long-distance calling information because they needed it for billing purposes. Credit cards collected only the information about their customers' transactions that they needed for billing. Stores hardly ever collected information about their customers, maybe some personal preferences, or name-and-address for advertising purposes. Even Google, back in the beginning, collected far less information about its users than it does today.
As technology improved, corporations were able to collect more. As the cost of data storage became cheaper, they were able to save more data and for a longer time. And as big data analysis tools became more powerful, it became profitable to save more. Today, almost everything is being saved by someone—probably forever.
Examples are everywhere. Internet companies like Google, Facebook, Amazon and Apple collect everything we do online at their sites. Third-party cookies allow those companies, and others, to collect data on us wherever we are on the Internet. Store affinity cards allow merchants to track our purchases. CCTV and aerial surveillance combined with automatic face recognition allow companies to track our movements; so does your cell phone. The Internet will facilitate even more surveillance, by more corporations for more purposes.
On the government side, surveillance has been on a path from individually targeted to broadly collected. When surveillance was manual and expensive, it could only be justified in extreme cases. The warrant process limited police surveillance, and resource restraints and the risk of discovery limited national intelligence surveillance. Specific individuals were targeted for surveillance, and maximal information was collected on them alone.
As technology improved, the government was able to implement ever-broadening surveillance. The National Security Agency could surveil groups—the Soviet government, the Chinese diplomatic corps, etc.—not just individuals. Eventually, they could spy on entire communications trunks.
Now, instead of watching one person, the NSA can monitor "threehops" away from that person—an ever widening network of people not directly connected to the person under surveillance. Using sophisticated tools, the NSA can surveil broad swaths of the Internet and phone network.
Governments have always used their authority to piggyback on corporate surveillance. Why should they go through the trouble of developing their own surveillance programs when they could just ask corporations for the data? For example we just learned that the NSA collects e-mail, IM and social networking contact lists for millions of Internet users worldwide.
But as corporations started collecting more information on populations, governments started demanding that data. Through National Security Letters, the FBI can surveil huge groups of people without obtaining a warrant. Through secret agreements, the NSA can monitor the entire Internet and telephone networks.
This is a huge part of the public-private surveillance partnership.
The result of all this is we're now living in a world where both corporations and governments have us all under pretty much constant surveillance.
Data is a byproduct of the information society. Every interaction we have with a computer creates a transaction record, and we interact with computers hundreds of times a day. Even if we don't use a computer—buying something in person with cash, say—the merchant uses a computer, and the data flows into the same system. Everything we do leaves a data shadow, and that shadow is constantly under surveillance.
Data is also a byproduct of information society socialization, whether it be e-mail, instant messages or conversations on Facebook. Conversations that used to be ephemeral are now recorded, and we are all leaving digital footprints wherever we go.
Moore's law has made computing cheaper. All of us have made computing ubiquitous. And because computing produces data, and that data equals surveillance, we have created a world of ubiquitous surveillance.
Now we need to figure out what to do about it. This is more than reining in the NSA or fining a corporation for the occasional data abuse. We need to decide whether our data is a shared societal resource, a part of us that is inherently ours by right, or a private good to be bought and sold.
Writing in The Guardian, Chris Huhn said that "information is power, and the necessary corollary is that privacy is freedom." How this interplay between power and freedom play out in the information age is still to be determined.
Categories: National Security Policy, Privacy and Surveillance
There has been a ton of controversy surrounding the topic of the NSA. Throughout the history of the United States we have fallen victim to terrorist attacks and we cannot blame the governments desire to be ten steps ahead rather than 10 steps behind. The NSA’s main focus is our safety, they do not exist to infringe on our constitutional rights. Liberty and security go hand-in-hand; one cannot exist without the other.
People tend to approach this topic on a “national security v. civil liberties” meanwhile nothing says that both cannot exist together. It is absolutely possible to have national security while still preserving the civil liberties of the citizens. Everyone would like to live in an ideal world where the government takes an idealistic approach because that would mean leaving the people completely vulnerable to outside threats. What the people fail to realize is that modern terrorists online are a real risk to this country. They use the internet as a way to contact each other. The internet holds fatal information like how to make a bomb which anyone and everyone can have access to. Terrorists would also have access to most of the information needed about the enemy in order to make their attack successful. The media has portrayed the NSA as a negative and unnecessary agency meanwhile there is nothing negative and unnecessary about keeping this country safe. The NSA doesn’t target innocent Americans one by one. The NSA works solely for our benefit and safety.
If a person has nothing to hide there should be no reason to have a problem with the NSA and the things that they do. I do see how people can feel like it is an invasion of privacy but at the end of the day, would you want the NSA to check on you every once in a while or would you rather risk the possibility of a terrorist attack that can lead into millions of lives lost ultimately leading to war? The NSA is able to tap into anyone’s email and texts but they aren’t doing it with malicious intent, or to snoop in your business, they’re doing it solely for the reason of your safety and the safety of everyone else around you. Less than 30,000 people work for the NSA and there are 300 million people in the United States sending calls everyday, the chances of you getting monitored is the same as the odds of you winning the lottery.
The NSA does not care who you’re going to the movies with or what you are having for dinner. As long as you are not contacting terrorists groups or posing harm to the well being of this country you have absolutely nothing to worry about. In June of this year, whistleblower Edward Snowden, a worker for the NSA, leaked classified documents about the NSA’s procedures in online and telephone surveillance to a the Guardian, a British newspaper. Before the leak, however, no public knowledge of PRISM, the surveillance program controlled by the NSA, existed. There were no riots protesting a violation of privacy, only benefits. In fact, the NSA stopped numerous terrorist attacks before the leak. An example of this is that of Najibullah Zazi. Zazi was an Islamic extremist living in Colorado who planned to bomb the New York City subway in 2009. He was traced to Al-Qaeda operative in the Middle East and the NSA discovered information about the plot after monitoring him for only a short period of time.
Before the leak, the NSA was not harming anyone, and saving countless numbers of lives. Since 2001, the NSA records more than 50 classified cases of thwarted terrorist plots outweighing any potential harms of surveillance. It is impossible to satisfy every person in the country. People complain when there is nothing being done and they complain when a solution is found. This leaves the government stuck between a rock and a hard place. Realistically, the NSA doesn’t affect our lives on a daily basis. The chances of the NSA getting hacked are much more slim then the chances of an attack on the country. We all have to sacrifice certain things for the well being of the country as a whole and in this case privacy is worth sacrificing for safety. I’m sure no one wants to see a repeat of the tragedy that occurred on 9/11.
This country is the place we call home, and for people to say that privacy is more important than safety is selfish. The NSA has done nothing but prevent attacks on our homes. Instead of feeling like our privacy is being invaded we should feel a sense of safety. The government continues find new ways to improve then lives on the people that live in this wonderful country and I believe that they shouldn’t be scrutinized for it. National security is essential which has been shown in past experience such as the Boston bombing. There is no way the United States will ever be 100 percent protected but there are programs and agencies such as the NSA, which gives us an advantage. The NSA is vital in the security of this country and is in place only to protect you, me and all the other citizens of the United States.