Mass Surveillance is the act of observing large segments of people or groups without any set system to do so. It usually interferes with the peoples’ rights to privacy. Any attempt to collect data of a group or individuals without any measures taken to limit the acquired data to specific target public or individual is a form of mass surveillance.
With the use of this method, the government can now monitor any sphere of our lives without us even knowing about it. With the help of today’s technology governments all across the globe are obtaining and processing data from huge numbers of people without even them being accused of any crime or wrong doing. Due to this the government has attained immense amounts of power over the general public.
Practice of mass surveillance by the government is not recent. This is been carried out for a long time in the history of surveillance. Some old methods of mass surveillance include tattooing people for recognition, numbering and putting people under categories, censuses and ID documenting. Presently, mass surveillance has become really easy in public places with the help of installation of closed circuit television cameras (CCTV).
The latest forms of surveillance via the government on the public is monitoring their communication patterns, which includes what we do on our phones and other digital devices like computers, Ipads and so on. I recently tweeted about it to seek public opinion about the government invading privacy. The results are below.
Is it Ethical to do so? When is surveillance appropriate?
M.I.T. professor Gary Marx presented an argument about it (An Ethics for the New Surveillance, Vol. 14, No. 3) saying that we should measure and evaluate methods of mass surveillance before its implication on people. This can be done by asking a number of questions about the means, data collection context and the uses of that data.
There have been many protests by the public against the government for this reason. The government usually gets away from such protests by saying things along the lines of “If you haven’t done anything wrong, you have nothing to fear.”
A counter argument to this presented by Edward Snowden saying that “… If you don’t support freedom of speech, maybe it’s because you have nothing to say” (Snowden Article).
Although, mass surveillance can be used in a positive manner; anti- terrorism, census and crime statistics. It helps the government to stop major organized crimes like human trafficking across international borders, drug trades and so on. I have also talked about police surveillance in my podcast below and few other government surveillance examples across the globe.
Podcast Shivangi Sharma
Government surveillance does work in favor of people sometimes but in this process the government is collecting large amounts of data which can used or abused according the circumstances. This makes people vulnerable to the government. I recently watched a famous talk show TED Talk .Christopher Soghoian talks about software the governmnet is adopting. It is really interesting to know how and to what extent we can be monitored!
They can control our lives. They have the ability to know exactly what any innocent individuals are doing at any point in time, even if they are in their own home, just like you and me!
- Ashley Deeks, An International Legal Framework for Surveillance Vol.55:2, ILSA, Accessed 30/8/16, https://www.ilsa.org/jessup/jessup16/Batch%202/DeeksLegalFramework.pdf
- “Background: Firewall of Shame”, Global Internet Freedom Consortium, 2008. Retrieved 22 March 2014, Accessed 27th August 2016, https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Internet_censorship_in_China#cite_note-3
- Harry Tucker, Metadata Laws in Australia 2015: Everything You Need to Know, 13th October 2016, Accessed 27th August 2016, http://www.news.com.au/technology/online/new-data-retention-laws-begin-today-this-is-what-you-need-to-know/news-story/28ea2dc1b01d15e53f474e21b6d68501
- Marx, Gary. “An Ethics For The New Surveillance.” The Information Society, Vol. 14, No. 3, 1998
- Nick Grimm, US government data surveillance under a cloud as Microsoft launches legal challenge.-ABC News (Australian Broadcasting Corporation) , April 15th 2016, Accessed 27th August 2016, http://www.abc.net.au/news/2016-04-15/us-government-data-surveillance-under-a-cloud-as/7330144
- Sophie Kleeman, In One Quote, Snowden Just Destroyed the Biggest Myth About Privacy, Tech.Mic, May 29th 2015, Accessed 30/8/16, https://mic.com/articles/119602/in-one-quote-edward-snowden-summed-up-why-our-privacy-is-worth-fighting-for#.r9yXhUxey