Government Surveillance


Surveillance is a practice put into effect to protect people. When a store is robbed and the footage from the cameras is used to catch the criminal, we feel safe going back to the store. When our home security systems include the supervision of the areas surrounding our home, we feel safe going to bed at night. When we find out the government has been secretly surveilling us for years…we do not feel safe anywhere. In the Snowden article, we are included in the conversation about surveillance and our government and introduced to the 17 things Snowden has taught us.

1)- Can you hear me now?

In June of 2013, the Guardian reported that caller information was being collected from Verizon users by the National Security Agency. The idea behind the surveillance was to collect information of potential threats to national security however, it was discovered that the records were being collected in bulk, even if the people involved were not suspected of any crimes or wrong doing. Information collected included the phone numbers of the people on the call and the location of the calls. The actual conversation and content were not saved but this didn’t leave people feeling less shocked or invaded.

Richards brings up excellent points on the limited protection of the people under surveillance law.  According to recent surveillance cases “plaintiffs can only challenge secret government surveillance they can prove, but the government isn’t telling” (Richards, 2013, p. 1944). The release of this information by Snowden and the Guardian provided the proof needed to challenge the government but without it, there would certainly be no case. Even with proof of surveillance, courts are continuing to dismiss these cases on the grounds that the plaintiffs cannot prove they suffered any “legally cognizable injury” (Richards, 2013, p. 1943). This means that the claim is not within the power of a court to make a formal judgment or decision. Richards discusses how we as a society may be out of luck when it comes to suing over invasion of privacy, but should also look towards the positives of surveillance. We can all agree that, in a way, it is strange and makes us uncomfortable to be watched, but on the other hand, it is important in keeping ourselves and our loved ones safe. I appreciated the idea Richards brought forth of working to understand when and why surveillance is harmful and work towards regulating it. In the grand scheme of things, we can’t win against the government, but we can continue to challenge them in regards to our privacy.

10)- NSA surveils Europe

It was also revealed through Snowden’s leak that the U.S. had been spying on European citizens and EU officials. Germans were a “major focus” of the eavesdropping and the major officials were also being listened in on. This revelation caused an uproar in the Europe and was compared to the methods used in the Cold War.

Richards explains the idea of surveillance and power in simple terms. “Most forms of surveillance seek some form of subtler influence or control over others” (Richards, 2013, p. 1952-1953). By spying on the Europeans, the government was able to not only gather information but also power as the watcher has more power in these situations. While the government can claim it had particular goals in mind when beginning their surveillance, “it is usually about influencing or being able to respond to someone else’s behavior”(Richards, 2013, p. 1953). The Cold War comparison wasn’t far fetched. By listening in on official’s conversations, our government was able to be one step ahead of any move made by the Europeans. This type of upper hand can lead to blackmail, persuasion and discrimination which can lead to generalizations of an entire group of people. The information gathered caused distrust between the U.S. and Europe and left citizens on both sides feeling uncomfortable.


Crowd Sourcing- Waze

Screen Shot 2016-11-13 at 6.41.51 PM.png
Waze is a traffic and navigation app that is used to save driver’s time and gas on their route. While it may seem like any other GPS, Waze sets itself apart by allow its users to participate. People can report different situations, such as traffics jams or speed traps set up by police, and this information gets put onto the map for others. Any user can then see these updates and avoid specific areas in an effort to make their commute easier.


When comparing the Next Stop design case to Waze, I found similarities in the registration process. Both are free to the public & once you register you are able to begin participation. I believe one reason why both groups of participants chose to engage, was the simplicity of signing up & being a part of the process without needing to spend any money. I also believe both groups are similar in their “contribution to a collaborative effort” (Brabham, 2012, p. 309). I think the idea of putting your ideas & input in with others makes people feel important & involved.

Unlike the Next Stop design, Waze users are not competing but rather working collectively towards a common goal. In the Next Stop design case, people were motivated by peer recognition and career advancement whereas the Waze users are simply motivated by themselves. It is completely up to the user on whether or not they use the app for their own benefit or they input information to help others.

I find the most similarities between Waze and the emergency reporting cases. Waze can be classified using the same three points discussed in the Asmolov article: informing, alerting and engagement (Asmolov, 2015, p.163). Similar to the emergency-related mobile apps, users can send out information to alert other people. Also, the information in both apps is categorized for the user, making it easy for them to locate the specific information they need.  With so many people on the road, it is important for these categories to exist so that one can find the exact piece of information they need.

One of the most important similarities is the up to date information. For both the emergency apps and Waze, the present is most important. Similar to an alert when an earthquake is happening, a major traffic accident can be posted so that others are aware. Participants in both apps want to engage because they understand how useful up to date information is. With no incentive to participate but to help others, I find both of these apps to be smart in that they don’t need a pull or pitch, people genuinely want to assist in both cases.

The main difference that stuck out to me was the sensory perception aspect of the emergency app DisasterWatch. In describing a feature where users are asked to input their sensory observations, we learn that the “classification relies on human sense perceptions. The user is asked to describe what a particular sense indicates” (Asmolov, 2015, p.161). Users can say they smell a fire for example. With Waze, users do not have the ability to input such information. Everything they post is about their sight. They see an accident or see traffic. I find the sensory aspect of the emergency apps to be extremely useful in that circumstance but not as much for a navigation app. All in all, the projects were presented as a way to help others and the users seem to have jumped at the opportunity to participate in that sense.

Mobile Internet vs. the Underprivileged

The uses of the mobile internet, as discussed in the two articles, can vary greatly based upon the user. The circumstances surrounding the user can affect their ability to reap the same benefits as others. For example, both articles touched on the differences between users who are privileged and those who are underprivileged. It was noted that underprivileged youth haven’t had much interaction with computers, therefore preventing them from fully utilizing the mobile internet. This lack of knowledge restricts the underprivileged to more passive usage of their handsets. Another topic that was discussed in the two articles was the fact that these handsets were the cheapest way for most people to communicate. Together this means that while the underprivileged are able to purchase the handsets, they may not be able to use them as well as those with more knowledge and practice of these technological skills. For my study, I would like to delve deeper into some issues discussed in each article.

(Question #1): How do underprivileged users overcome their lack of prior familiarity with technology to politically participate?

What I mean to ask is how the underprivileged population can overcome their disconnect with advanced technologies to allow themselves to engage in activism online. For this question, my sample population would be the underprivileged youth in Syria. I think this population would be best for my question because their country has been in turmoil, due to various reasons, and the youth’s opinions on the government could be shared via the mobile internet if they were capable of doing so.

I think it is important to learn the answer to this question because it can lead to a better understanding of the underprivileged user’s resilience to these obstacles. Secondly, I think it could help the government learn more about how the crisis is directly affecting its people.

(Question #2): Why do companies create handsets that exacerbate the social inequities of its users?

My sample population would be developers of three different companies that produce these handsets. Three people who have a direct hand in the creation of the product. This question came to mind after reading over and over again about the way these handsets have separated its users by their social status. I wonder why the companies continue to create products that cause these social inequities to continue? Many dealings with companies have to do with money but I don’t see how this makes the companies richer? Wouldn’t they want to create products that all people can use?

As we read, the underprivileged are getting “physical access to the technologies” and they “do make attempts to make use of them” but they are not getting full access (Wijetunga, 2014, p. 721). The people will still get their hands on these phones, which may be why the companies still don’t care about the inequities, but I would like to know what other reasons are behind this discrepancy.

I think it is important to learn the answer to this second question because it can lead to the creation of more effective technologies. I think this could help the people’s society become more independent and progressive. While this may be a fear for their government, it is important for the success of the people.

Remix: Vote.

From Facebook posts to fist fights, the disagreements over who should be our next president has caused a giant separation within our country. This election season has exposed people’s insensitive and hateful beliefs. No one has shown their true self more than Donald Trump. In an effort to encourage people to vote, I have remixed some parts of his campaign.

Digital Outlaws: Technological Determinism and Piracy

Technological determinism was discussed in the Söderberg article. Having never heard of this concept before, I found its meaning to be very interesting and relevant to our society in this day and age. In a nutshell, the concept refers to the way in which “technology is seen as influencing the course of society” (Söderberg, p. 1285, 201). Technology influences who we are, and the tools that are invented shape the way we communicate. I can see this concept in the use of cellphones. The more popular they became, the more people conformed to the idea of having one. Now, an overwhelming majority of the public has a cellphone, even my Nana. Although she doesn’t know how to properly use it, she felt like she needed one because everyone had one. I think this illustrates how even the older generations eventually adapt to whatever form of technology becomes prominent. Some other examples of how society has allowed technological changes to shape our lives can be seen in the death of floppy disks, landline phones, VHS tapes, VCRs, beepers and typewriters.


If a new technology is invented and nothing changes, then this theory could be disproven but for the most part, society adapts to new technologies fairly quickly and without much resistance. Even when we do resist, we somehow end up conforming.


When it comes to the distribution of goods, it is safe to say that the creators of those goods want credit and money for their product. When it comes to the internet however, there are various ways for us as consumers to get certain products for free. When I think of piracy, I think of myself. Back in the good old days of LimeWire, I would sit at my desktop computer for hours and download some of my favorite songs for free. It wasn’t until the site got shut down and I began college that I realized that what I was doing was deemed “wrong” by many people, including the government. At my undergraduate institution, the University of South Florida, if you downloaded music you would get an email describing the network’s term of service and have your internet suspended. This experience in my life resonated with John’s statement that although the powerful people in the entertainment industry and government want to use the word “piracy” to make us feel ashamed and guilty of committing a crime “the degree to which copyright infringers see themselves in terms of this ideological framework is surely debatable” (John, p.207, 2014). Many of us who have engaged in file sharing, don’t see ourselves as criminals but rather consumers looking for a way to receive and share information.

Screen Shot 2016-10-23 at 7.59.03 PM.png

John’s article does a good job of illustrating how a change of verbiage can make an illegal task seem more appealing. By using the term “file-sharing” instead of “piracy”, the act of sharing copyrighted material seems more kind. When we file share, we are making things available to others and others are making things available to us. After reading the article, I believe the word “piracy” is used by those who wish to express their disapproval of file sharing and seek punishment for those who engage in it.