Government Surveillance

The fact that we are under surveillance is a kind of shared awareness in the modern society. Maybe for some who are absolutely not care about being watched by others, surveillance could never become a concern. But people started to gain a deeper understanding on the government’s surveillance and its impact, especially after Snowden’s revelation.

1) Can you hear me now?

It was reported and revealed that the US government and NSA was collecting caller information from Verizon, AT&T, and Bellsouth from 2001. The fact maybe unacceptable since the government ordered those companies to hand over detailed call information which includes time and location. However, the unpleasant truth is that, based on the America’s Law, the telecommunications providers have to build the networks in ways that “make the surveillance and interception possible (Richards, 2013, p. 1941)”.

Though the US officials claimed that such surveillance was legal and necessary to keep the nation secure, I am not surprised that many citizens would argue that the action went too far. Because information as personal phone calls is considered very “private”, let alone telephone wiretapping. If the case was like the FBI listened to Dr. King’s telephone conversation in order to seek the blackmail information, it would be more understandable, but apparently, the government can get all of our records. Therefore, Richards points out in the article that total surveillance is illegitimated, and must be “subjected to meaningful judicial process before it is authorized (p. 1961)”.

2) Yes we scan

According to the secret PowerPoint leaked by Snowden, the NSA’s was involved in a clandestine program called PRISM, in which the NSA collects data including email content, search histories and file transfers, etc. With its collaborated internet companies’ names listed, almost all the digital activities we conduct online could be known to the government. When the program was exposed, it was criticized for its ability to collect data “unintentionally”. Just as what is mentioned by Richards—secret surveillance is illegitimated—citizens should have the right to know what is watched by the government.

Richards also points out the information flow between the government and private companies—“Government and nongovernment surveillance support each other in a complex manner that is often impossible to disentangle (p. 1940)”. Apparently, in most times, the government turned to those private internet companies to ask for detailed, personal information. So in order to protect users’ privacy, restrictions should also be placed among those companies.

The surveillance of those personal digital activities may also results in bad consequence like blackmail, since it “gives the watcher greater power to influence (Richards, 2013, p. 1953)”. It reminds me of the drama Shut Up and Dance in Black Mirror, in which the victims are controlled and even forced to commit crimes by anonymous watcher, who threatening them to reveal their embarrassing secrets—some were released through email, some were recorded from the laptop’s camera.


8 thoughts on “Government Surveillance

  1. Hi Zuo,
    The paragraph of your caught my attention, especially when talked about the shared awareness of government surveillance. What I think is that the concern over government surveillance varies from culture to another culture, not because governments impose more or less surveillance, but because people in some culture are more tolerant than others toward government surveillance. For example, in Saudi Arabia, the government do censor and watch what people are doing online, and yet nobody complains about that, and people live with it, and consider it part of being a good citizen! I don’t remember reading a single story in the news about the government surveillance of the Internet and telephone records. I say this with taking into consideration the difference between Internet censorship, and government surveillance of the Internet.


  2. Hi, Zuo,
    I totally agree with you that it is hard to tell the boundaries between what part of our life can be surveilled and what can not. But when knowing every part of our life is under surveillance is definitely too far away from the “safety” regards. Both sides, the watcher and watched, have their considerations. I think the best way to alleviate the conflict is to take care of both safety and privacy and to lower the damage, just as Richards has suggested.
    And after reconsider the chilling effect, I think the damage of surveillance is much greater than I had expected. The watched will restrict their behavior and do not do something or say something or go to some places. This can restrict people’s innovation, and hinder people’s freedom.


  3. Actually, in my own perspective, the government surveillance is not a special case happens in US, it was a worldwide issue. For example, I believe our Chinese government also “ordered companies to hand over detailed call information which includes time and location of caller information” as what you referred what the US government did in you article, or the Chinese government could have these data if it want. However, the reason why Chinese people’s reaction was somewhat different from American people is that, on the one hand, Chinese people may be accustomed to the unfree atmosphere, as we all know, Chinese people don’t have such freedom of speech as American people have, so we can bear more than American when facing government surveillance. On the other hand, Chinese people may complain more about government than American people, but our speech online may delete because of censorship by the Chinese government.


  4. Your black mirror’s example is totally up to the point. I felt the same when I watched that TV series. However, you mentioned that the restrictions should also be placed among digital companies. In my opinion, it is very hard to accomplish this goal because it is the fact that nowadays surveillance still continue to effect people. PRISM still works. With the support of government and country, the digital companies are not easily to be punished and restricted by citizens. Moreover, citizens rely heavily on digital things, such as telephone, computer, Internet, social media. They can’t get rid of these things although they know that the surveillance is happening through digital products.


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  7. In one of your comments, you said: “we are actually need that kind of surveillance in many cases to guarantee the social safety,” I would encourage you to examine that statement. Is it really true that we NEED surveillance to ensure safety? Is it a price too high?


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