How Should We Balance the Legitimate Security Needs of the State Against Our Right to Privacy?

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24th Nov 2020 Human Rights Reference this

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For almost as long as there has been surveillance technology, there has been the question of how to best apply it without infringing on the rights of the people. The scope of this technology is large and only increases as technological advances enable the government to peer more and more deeply into the lives of its citizens. There has been an increasing amount of support for facial identification cameras in public spaces during recent years with increasing terrorist attack frequency, but the scope of government surveillance is not just limited to interactions in the public sphere. Now, with how “plugged in” we are as a generation, our government can monitor our search histories and our private conversations if they so choose. Additionally, there are many misconceptions that lead to negative views regarding surveillance and privacy which I will address. Ultimately, there is a fine line that balances privacy and security, I believe that there are many benefits to increased government surveillance that far outweigh the downsides, but I will examine both sides of the issue in this paper.

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First and foremost, there are multiple misconceptions about the current state of information gathered by governmental agencies with surveillance technologies. Most are adamant that they are not conducting mass surveillance. “Mass surveillance is about pervasive observation or monitoring of the entire population or a substantial sector of it. Observation implies observers, human beings who are examining the thoughts and actions of the population” (Omand, 2014). This is simply not the case, with the amount of information that is currently flowing and available, there is no possible way for a human to perform such a task. This can be seen in the collection of data by the NSA and other agencies around the world, “the NSA itself states that it touches a mere 1.6% of Internet traffic. Of that 1.6%, only 0.025% is selected for review and seen by an analyst. In effect, NSA analysts see only 0.00004% of the world's Internet traffic” (NSA, 2013). The message here is that organizations only collect relevant data such as messages that use certain keywords or phrases, this is different from mass surveillance which would begin by collecting everyone’s data no matter the content. Another misconception, especially within the United States is who the NSA can collect data from. In the United States, American citizens are more protected than foreigners. “Because of this distinct difference between these two categories of people, what foreign intelligence collects related to these groups differs greatly. U.S. persons are protected by the Constitution, which provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.” (Cayford et al., 2018) Of course, if there is reasonable suspicion then there is no such protection and that is what the surveillance system is designed for . Finally, when data is seized privacy of the user is often respected. Government organizations use computer driven algorithms search through the data and filter out keywords or suspicious phrases. This filtered data is what is kept and what the analyst sees. This selection of data is based on what a warrant has authorized, and this guarantees that privacy is respected.

The most important thing to consider when looking at surveillance technologies is their effectiveness. In order to do this, we must first define effectiveness and look at the different ways that surveillance is effective. The EU SURVEILLE project considers a surveillance technology to be effective when it “has the technical capacity to deliver the intended security goals, and when employed for a defined goal within the necessary context achieves the intended outcome” (van Gulijk et al., 2013) Most definitions are intentionally vague and this one is no different, because it is so hard to quantify the success of an entire surveillance program, especially because there are so many contributing factors to stopping crime or a terrorist attack. Despite the vague definitions of effectiveness, there are many quantitative methods we can use to see if surveillance works to deter crime or terrorist attacks. Starting from what I believe to be the least impactful metric, we can count the number of attacks thwarted and the amount of lives saved. “In the wake of the Snowden leaks NSA director General Alexander cited the number of terrorist activities – 54 – that had been disrupted as a result of information collected by surveillance programs operating under Section 215 of the Patriot Act and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).” (Cayford et al., 2018) Although there is initial value in thwarting attacks, proper usage of surveillance gives us unique abilities to go after the bigger picture and disrupt or completely ruin whole organizations.

The main thing that surveillance does well is inform our decision makers of the bigger picture. In a world where nothing is known for sure, irrefutable evidence such as call logs or video recordings help to make a decision easier and more certain. Using surveillance information in a support role is key because without information you cannot make informed decisions. “Practitioners judge the support rendered to other agencies via intelligence collected by a [surveillance] system to be a measure of effectiveness. Omand argues that bulk collection is effective. One indication that this is so is that other intelligence agencies and law enforcement depend on GCHQ and its bulk interception.” (Omand, 2014) Looking at Great Britain and their criminal cases, if we consider a program that maintains 80% of its effectiveness as acceptable, their communications intercepts are said to be used in 95% of their criminal cases which seemingly points towards effectiveness of their program. Although the definition of effectiveness is vague and hard to quantify, I believe that current levels of government surveillance are quite effective and increased funding towards more efficient and effective methods of surveillance should be used to ensure maximum usage in all applicable cases.

The main downsides and arguments against increased surveillance are usually centered around ethical viewpoints. Information collection in this age of technology is non-intrusive and a large majority of people will never even know it happened in the first place. Even though a perceived loss of personal privacy might have a psychological impact on people and cause them to fear the government, I believe it is a small price to pay for increased national security. I do disagree with and think there should be limits on the collection of information with no clear evidence of a threat. An example of this would be “the collection of biometric [data that] has expanded immensely in the past several years. Many schools in the UK collect fingerprints of children as young as six without parental consent and fingerprinting in American schools has been widespread since the mid-eighties. Now, the discussion has shifted towards DNA police are now pushing for the DNA collection of children who "exhibit behavior indicating they may become criminals in later life", while former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani has encouraged the collection of DNA data of newborns. (Wu et al.) In my opinion, there should be firm limits in place about a minimum age before data can be gathered from people.

Another downside that is often mentioned is the cost of maintaining such an expansive surveillance apparatus. In fact, “all officials emphatically affirmed that cost is most certainly a factor when it comes to deploying surveillance technologies. This refers not only to the actual money spent, but also to manpower. In reference to tactical operations in the U.K., “resources are so limited, and the volume of potential terrorists is so high that your threshold has got to be very high to put surveillance” (Cayford et al., 2018) With an increased budget and more priority in developing more effective technologies, that threshold can be lowered and more leads can be investigated resulting in even fewer terrorist plots. In 2014, the estimated cost of UK’s mass surveillance program was 17.27 billion USD, in comparison, the budget for the United States Armed Forces was 748 billion USD. Diverting a little more than 2% of our total military budget could very likely yield dividends just through preventative measures alone and that’s not even accounting for active denial of terrorist operations through an improved surveillance program.

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Surveillance has certainly proved useful stopping hundreds of cases around the world either by catching groups in the act or by deterrence. Many still may cite the uncertainty of surveillance information gathered, stating that it may be inaccurate or not useful but using Great Britain, a country with a more developed surveillance apparatus as an example, “In a discussion on equipment interference (the installation of malware on a device to activate the microphone or camera, collect location information, etc.) Omand stated that such capability is of “inestimable value to the intelligence agencies… Some 20% of GCHQ's output benefits from that kind of technique” (Omand, 2014). As evidenced by this quote, the UK seems to believe that equipment interference is effective technique, and the frequency of use of the information gathered has contributed to the agency's overall output. “Output here is not defined, but it can be presumed to mean GCHQ's output to its customers, such as intelligence reports. Also of note is the percentage figure – contribution to 20% of output is considered to be an acceptable number to qualify to be effective.” (Cayford et al., 2018) I think that there is no denying the obvious utility that surveillance provides to the safety of a nation. In fact, because our surveillance infrastructure is not as good as Great Britain’s we should be investing more money into to make ours as effective or better.

In my eyes, if even one innocent life can be spared because of information gathered through surveillance, then it is worth it. Why should one person’s privacy be worth more than another’s life? In addition, the implementation of more visible surveillance devices can deter crime before it starts. The everyday citizen going about their life has nothing to fear if they are not planning to harm other people or the state. I do recognize, that increased surveillance can get out of hand. Taken to the extremes, unchecked surveillance can contribute to a slippery slope leading to a society with no privacy at all and turn into a dystopian "Big Brother" society. This is why the current system works so well, it is simply determined by systems that look only for keywords and phrases deemed a threat to national security. By regulating our security services independently of the government, we can make sure that only data that is threatening is filtered and reviewed. In conclusion, surveillance technologies currently only make the smallest intrusion in our everyday lives and are highly effective often with limited budgets. Increasing funding towards surveillance programs and empowering them to keep citizens safe can only result in positive outcomes and a larger step towards peace in the world.

References

For almost as long as there has been surveillance technology, there has been the question of how to best apply it without infringing on the rights of the people. The scope of this technology is large and only increases as technological advances enable the government to peer more and more deeply into the lives of its citizens. There has been an increasing amount of support for facial identification cameras in public spaces during recent years with increasing terrorist attack frequency, but the scope of government surveillance is not just limited to interactions in the public sphere. Now, with how “plugged in” we are as a generation, our government can monitor our search histories and our private conversations if they so choose. Additionally, there are many misconceptions that lead to negative views regarding surveillance and privacy which I will address. Ultimately, there is a fine line that balances privacy and security, I believe that there are many benefits to increased government surveillance that far outweigh the downsides, but I will examine both sides of the issue in this paper.

First and foremost, there are multiple misconceptions about the current state of information gathered by governmental agencies with surveillance technologies. Most are adamant that they are not conducting mass surveillance. “Mass surveillance is about pervasive observation or monitoring of the entire population or a substantial sector of it. Observation implies observers, human beings who are examining the thoughts and actions of the population” (Omand, 2014). This is simply not the case, with the amount of information that is currently flowing and available, there is no possible way for a human to perform such a task. This can be seen in the collection of data by the NSA and other agencies around the world, “the NSA itself states that it touches a mere 1.6% of Internet traffic. Of that 1.6%, only 0.025% is selected for review and seen by an analyst. In effect, NSA analysts see only 0.00004% of the world's Internet traffic” (NSA, 2013). The message here is that organizations only collect relevant data such as messages that use certain keywords or phrases, this is different from mass surveillance which would begin by collecting everyone’s data no matter the content. Another misconception, especially within the United States is who the NSA can collect data from. In the United States, American citizens are more protected than foreigners. “Because of this distinct difference between these two categories of people, what foreign intelligence collects related to these groups differs greatly. U.S. persons are protected by the Constitution, which provides protection against unreasonable searches and seizures.” (Cayford et al., 2018) Of course, if there is reasonable suspicion then there is no such protection and that is what the surveillance system is designed for . Finally, when data is seized privacy of the user is often respected. Government organizations use computer driven algorithms search through the data and filter out keywords or suspicious phrases. This filtered data is what is kept and what the analyst sees. This selection of data is based on what a warrant has authorized, and this guarantees that privacy is respected.

The most important thing to consider when looking at surveillance technologies is their effectiveness. In order to do this, we must first define effectiveness and look at the different ways that surveillance is effective. The EU SURVEILLE project considers a surveillance technology to be effective when it “has the technical capacity to deliver the intended security goals, and when employed for a defined goal within the necessary context achieves the intended outcome” (van Gulijk et al., 2013) Most definitions are intentionally vague and this one is no different, because it is so hard to quantify the success of an entire surveillance program, especially because there are so many contributing factors to stopping crime or a terrorist attack. Despite the vague definitions of effectiveness, there are many quantitative methods we can use to see if surveillance works to deter crime or terrorist attacks. Starting from what I believe to be the least impactful metric, we can count the number of attacks thwarted and the amount of lives saved. “In the wake of the Snowden leaks NSA director General Alexander cited the number of terrorist activities – 54 – that had been disrupted as a result of information collected by surveillance programs operating under Section 215 of the Patriot Act and Section 702 of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act of 1978 (FISA).” (Cayford et al., 2018) Although there is initial value in thwarting attacks, proper usage of surveillance gives us unique abilities to go after the bigger picture and disrupt or completely ruin whole organizations.

The main thing that surveillance does well is inform our decision makers of the bigger picture. In a world where nothing is known for sure, irrefutable evidence such as call logs or video recordings help to make a decision easier and more certain. Using surveillance information in a support role is key because without information you cannot make informed decisions. “Practitioners judge the support rendered to other agencies via intelligence collected by a [surveillance] system to be a measure of effectiveness. Omand argues that bulk collection is effective. One indication that this is so is that other intelligence agencies and law enforcement depend on GCHQ and its bulk interception.” (Omand, 2014) Looking at Great Britain and their criminal cases, if we consider a program that maintains 80% of its effectiveness as acceptable, their communications intercepts are said to be used in 95% of their criminal cases which seemingly points towards effectiveness of their program. Although the definition of effectiveness is vague and hard to quantify, I believe that current levels of government surveillance are quite effective and increased funding towards more efficient and effective methods of surveillance should be used to ensure maximum usage in all applicable cases.

The main downsides and arguments against increased surveillance are usually centered around ethical viewpoints. Information collection in this age of technology is non-intrusive and a large majority of people will never even know it happened in the first place. Even though a perceived loss of personal privacy might have a psychological impact on people and cause them to fear the government, I believe it is a small price to pay for increased national security. I do disagree with and think there should be limits on the collection of information with no clear evidence of a threat. An example of this would be “the collection of biometric [data that] has expanded immensely in the past several years. Many schools in the UK collect fingerprints of children as young as six without parental consent and fingerprinting in American schools has been widespread since the mid-eighties. Now, the discussion has shifted towards DNA police are now pushing for the DNA collection of children who "exhibit behavior indicating they may become criminals in later life", while former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani has encouraged the collection of DNA data of newborns. (Wu et al.) In my opinion, there should be firm limits in place about a minimum age before data can be gathered from people.

Another downside that is often mentioned is the cost of maintaining such an expansive surveillance apparatus. In fact, “all officials emphatically affirmed that cost is most certainly a factor when it comes to deploying surveillance technologies. This refers not only to the actual money spent, but also to manpower. In reference to tactical operations in the U.K., “resources are so limited, and the volume of potential terrorists is so high that your threshold has got to be very high to put surveillance” (Cayford et al., 2018) With an increased budget and more priority in developing more effective technologies, that threshold can be lowered and more leads can be investigated resulting in even fewer terrorist plots. In 2014, the estimated cost of UK’s mass surveillance program was 17.27 billion USD, in comparison, the budget for the United States Armed Forces was 748 billion USD. Diverting a little more than 2% of our total military budget could very likely yield dividends just through preventative measures alone and that’s not even accounting for active denial of terrorist operations through an improved surveillance program.

Surveillance has certainly proved useful stopping hundreds of cases around the world either by catching groups in the act or by deterrence. Many still may cite the uncertainty of surveillance information gathered, stating that it may be inaccurate or not useful but using Great Britain, a country with a more developed surveillance apparatus as an example, “In a discussion on equipment interference (the installation of malware on a device to activate the microphone or camera, collect location information, etc.) Omand stated that such capability is of “inestimable value to the intelligence agencies… Some 20% of GCHQ's output benefits from that kind of technique” (Omand, 2014). As evidenced by this quote, the UK seems to believe that equipment interference is effective technique, and the frequency of use of the information gathered has contributed to the agency's overall output. “Output here is not defined, but it can be presumed to mean GCHQ's output to its customers, such as intelligence reports. Also of note is the percentage figure – contribution to 20% of output is considered to be an acceptable number to qualify to be effective.” (Cayford et al., 2018) I think that there is no denying the obvious utility that surveillance provides to the safety of a nation. In fact, because our surveillance infrastructure is not as good as Great Britain’s we should be investing more money into to make ours as effective or better.

In my eyes, if even one innocent life can be spared because of information gathered through surveillance, then it is worth it. Why should one person’s privacy be worth more than another’s life? In addition, the implementation of more visible surveillance devices can deter crime before it starts. The everyday citizen going about their life has nothing to fear if they are not planning to harm other people or the state. I do recognize, that increased surveillance can get out of hand. Taken to the extremes, unchecked surveillance can contribute to a slippery slope leading to a society with no privacy at all and turn into a dystopian "Big Brother" society. This is why the current system works so well, it is simply determined by systems that look only for keywords and phrases deemed a threat to national security. By regulating our security services independently of the government, we can make sure that only data that is threatening is filtered and reviewed. In conclusion, surveillance technologies currently only make the smallest intrusion in our everyday lives and are highly effective often with limited budgets. Increasing funding towards surveillance programs and empowering them to keep citizens safe can only result in positive outcomes and a larger step towards peace in the world.

References

  • Cayford, M., & Pieters, W. (2018). The effectiveness of surveillance technology: What intelligence officials are saying. The Information Society34(2), 88–103. doi: 10.1080/01972243.2017.1414721
  • Gulijk, C. van, Sillem, S., & Cayford, M. (2013, September 30). EUI SURVEILLE. Retrieved February 8, 2020, from https://surveille.eui.eu/
  • Omand, D. (2014, October). Intelligence and Security Committee of ParliamentIntelligence and Security Committee of Parliament.
  • Wu, T., Chung, J., Vamat, J., & Richman, J. (n.d.). The Ethics of Surveillance. Retrieved February 8, 2020, from https://cs.stanford.edu/people/eroberts/cs181/projects/ethics-of-surveillance/ethics.html
  • (2013, August 9). Retrieved from https://www.nsa.gov/news-features/press-room/Article/1618729/the-national-security-agency-missions-authorities-oversight-and-partnerships/

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