Surveillance And Violation Of Privacy Rights

There are general concerns when it comes to Information privacy and surveillance.

It can be used as a tool for safety, but the lines are often blurred whether one is going too far with surveillance and violating the rights to privacy that shouldn’t be violated. Some of the specific pros of surveillance are that we may be able to catch people before they attempt to do villainous acts like shoot up a school or bomb a public setting. These are extreme cases, but in everyday cases we can catch criminals on the run by tracking their footprints on social media, as well as collecting metadata from their telephone calls and other activity. In a digital age, no one is safe from surveillance. The cons of this digital age is there is more information being displayed about our personal lives than we’d like. Digital footprints are left behind and can be used with certain tactics to extort money out of people. Humans are essentially the weakest link when it comes to security and your average person does not know about keyloggers. With great power comes both the ability for good and evil deeds.

My topic will be on the NSA collecting data and violating privacy rights. We’ve all heard the information spewed out by Snowden. No citizen is safe from spying. A lot of information is given up willingly like creating a Facebook account. In an article by The Guardian it is stated that the NSA has pressed a court order upon Verizon which “requires Verizon on an “ongoing, daily basis” to give the NSA all information on all telephone calls in its systems”. The article then makes it clear that there is no target audience in which the data is collected, but rather the goal is everyone as they collect data “regardless of whether they are suspected of any wrongdoing”. Though not every detail like voice recording is being collected by the NSA. They do collect metadata which the article explains is “the duration of each call, telephone calling card numbers, trunk identifiers, International mobile subscriber identity (IMSI) number, and comprehensive communication routing information”. I believe this to be a violation of our privacy as everyone is a target and victim. Of course, this is a matte of opinion, but it would be ethical for only suspects to be targeted, and not the general public. Some other metadata included are “the numbers of both parties on a call”, “call duration, unique identifiers, and the time and duration of all calls”. This is just one of the incidents involving the NSA and Surveillance.

The IEEE has a publication mentioning PRISM, a program created by the NSA that stores “data of non-US persons outside of the US and those communicating with them”. There are also reports of the NSA “spying on Chinese computers” [2]. These actions came to light thanks to the hero that is named Edward Snowden. Though this does violate what we believe to be privacy rights. The actions do seem to have a motive of war and protecting our country if not giving the US an advantage in the event of a war. This would be ethical in this particular case unlike the Verizon scandal.

A 2014 article titled The NSA and Edward Snowden: Surveillance of the 21st century elaborates more on the PRISM program. The article states that big companies like “Apple, Google, and Facebook” allows the NSA to have surveillance on their customers though “these high-profile companies denied that the NSA set up back doors to their systems”. As a surprise to many, even though this is loss of personal information at a huge scale the NSA deemed this to be lawful as “it adheres to the standards set by FISA”. FISA is the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance act which dictates whether plans can be put into action or not. A grey area seems to have been hit, because the 4th amendment is brought up as a counter argument stating “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” [3]. With this amendment in mind it is clear that either the amendment needs to be updated or the actions of the NSA violates those rules stated in the bill of rights for US citizens that is.

The Wall Street Journal dives deeper into the idea of the NSA spying on its citizens with the mention of “black programs” [4] that are meant to “collect individual financial data including wire transfers and credit card transactions” [4]. This is another situation that is seen as a double-edged sword. I could see the use of these programs to figure out who is obtaining funds from legit business transactions versus criminals getting wired hundreds of thousands that can be spotted.

We have to remember that the actions of this agency aren’t all up to them, this stems out to the entire government as President George W. Bush “authorized the National Security Agency to spy on Americans”, inside the United States, without first obtaining a warrant from the secret FISA court”. Controversy and outcry from United States citizens took place because of these controversial events. It is said that this was an emergency decision, but the “legal community, including the American Bar Association, considers the program illegal”. If the president approves, we must all obey right? Even people in high power must follow ethical rules, or risk being impeached.

My last source talks about how even with such ethical controversy, people willingly give up their information online as “the need for privacy grew from 2009 till 2013, users still published more information about themselves on social networks in 2013 compared to 2009”. Even with the information that companies make a profit off of these people by selling their information, there still seems to a steady number of people willing to give up information.

In conclusion, my recommendation is to run free software operating systems on personally built PC’s. This way you could minimize the risk of companies like HP or Windows installing spyware on your machine. This is only a small step in not being spied on, Operating system like Tails OS can help significantly, but in the end no one is truly safe from spying. As for cell phone usage, burner phones might be your best option, though this method is a bit pricey. Overall, what the NSA is doing is seen to be ethically wrong because there is a lack of limitations of rules they need to abide by. Anyone is a target. It would be more ethical to target certain groups only upon reasonable suspicion.


  • Glen GreenWald, “NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily,” The Guardian, June 2, 2013 Available:
  • Susan Landau, “Making Sense from Snowden: What’s Significant in the NSA Surveillance Revelations,” IEEE Security & Privacy ( Volume: 11 , Issue: 4 , July-Aug. 2013 )
  • Joseph Verble, “The NSA and Edward Snowden: surveillance in the 21st century,” ACM SIGCAS Computers and Society – Special Issue on Whistleblowing, pages 54-63, August 1, 2013
  • Siobhan Gorman, “NSA’s Domestic Spying Grows As Agency Sweeps Up Data,” , The Wall Street Journal, March 10, 2008, Available:
  • Zmarak Khan, “The National Security Agency (NSA) eavesdropping on Americans A programme that is neither legal nor necessary,” Utrecht Law Review, 01 December 2006, Vol.2(2), pp.61-80
  • Hof, Hans-Joachim, “Practical limitations of technical privacy protection,” Datenschutz und Datensicherheit – DuD, 2014, Vol.38(9), pp.601-605