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.


9 thoughts on “Government Surveillance

  1. Hi, Liandra,
    It is kind of sarcastic that Germans were the major focus of eavesdropping, because Germany is always a close ally of America. I don’t know what American people think of the eavesdropping before the leak of Snowden, but I somehow suppose that most countries may have secretly endeavor to collect other countries’ information as much as they can. I believe many countries have done the same thing although the fact has not been proved publicly. Maybe this impression came from movies or from the environment I grew up.
    So I was not very surprised when hearing about things Snowden revealed. But I think when talking about human right and morality, there are always double standards on the two sides of the country borders. People talk about human equality inside the country, but care less about equality with other country’s people. People put their own nation’s interest first, even if it means to sacrifice another nation’s interest and development. In the future maybe this theme will also be discussed in the common morality issues.


  2. I think you made a really interesting point that we feel safe when we can surveil our yards or our homes, but we feel less safe when we find out the government is watching us. I can only imagine how people feel in more authoritarian countries. It’s fascinating that our government would take the energy to watch both its own citizens and other countries.


  3. I guess I haven’t read much about it, but I wonder why Snowden isn’t considered a whistleblower. He seems like one to me. Reporting an unnecessary massive surveillance apparatus that extends in to all our lives (I’m a Verizon user!). That — at the moment — is where I come down on Snowden. He’s a whistleblower, who did his duty help the American people when our privacy was being invaded. I need to watch Citizen 4 though,


  4. It is sad to learn that, with the American law, surveillance is legal unless forbidden. I am thinking that people are therefore conducting protest with the regards of their privacy, it’s might because in some cases, they found that they got hurt from the government surveillance, or they found they are not having the right to speak freely (which is true), or just because after someone like Snowden revealed what was going on with the government surveillance, they felt tricked or cheated. People are sensitive about what they got, while may failed to recognize their benefits from the surveillance. One thing is true as you mentioned is that people would barely win confronting the government considering the privacy issue. But they can actually help develop into a more acceptable way for both sides, a better way to process democracy.


  5. I appreciate your statement that “we can’t win against the government, but we can continue to challenge them in regards to our privacy”. It reminds me of one tv series “the man in the high castle”. The background of it is the high surveillance of the Axis countries when the Axis countries won the World War 2. This policy made people silent and felt unsafe. It is the same as people affected by the PRISM. However, in this series, people still keep on flighting with the government and seeking for revolution. In my opinion, although nowadays the surveillance is still in a process and people can’t stop the surveillance by their personal effort, Snowden’s revelation is a revolution that enable people to reconsider the privacy, to challenge the government and digital companies that as citizens of a democratic country, people must have their right of privacy.


  6. About phone records being collected in bulk — Richards ALSO makes a point that this kind of blanket, all-inclusive surveillance should be illegal, in one of his four points for crafting future laws.


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