Better to Be Safe Than Sorry: Government Surveillance

government spying and limiting their rights. State surveillance

In a world that is becoming at risk of terrorism and all kinds of threats, a new tendency is becoming prevalent in terms of security: Spying on citizens and in so doing limiting their civil rights. This current trend has become particularly widespread after the aftermath of 9/11, but is it actually helping us to make a better society? Or is it silently undermining our personal freedom? The risks of having a “big brother” that knows everything about us and controls our personal information might just be too big of a compromise to obtain that “security” governments promise. Moreover, considering the fact that in most cases these programs have shown no real result compared to those focused on following actual suspicious individuals, this just represents a real drawback our individual rights for privacy: just because you want to keep something private, it doesn’t mean that you are a terrorist, it means you have a normal life. Some people defend these new security laws by stating that “if you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to be afraid of”, however, this argument seems like a severe over-generalization because people still have the right to keep their personal lives as private as they want and even have their own personal secrets. Besides all of this, it is important to consider the implications this could have in the actions that governments might take towards those innocent individuals considered “dangerous” after spying their personal data. This issue certainly affects everyone regardless of their political opinion, so it’s important to be very well informed about it.

Ideas to consider for later:

  • Should governments possess that much access to people’s private information?
  • Can people really do anything to protect their information from the government?
  • How far should the government be able to get in order to obtain personal information?
  • Is it really worth it to sacrifice personal freedom over constant surveillance and security?
  • Is it correct that a government might take legal actions over the presumption that someone could be a terrorist? Why?

Useful vocab to talk about surveillance

Match the vocab on the left with the definitions on the right. If you’re having difficulty the answers are given below.

Terrorism Supervision focused on one particular individual who is a suspect of terrorisms or other crimes.
Civil liberties USA government surveillance office.
Terrorist Surveillance Program Fundamental rights that every citizen should be entitled to have as a part of society.
Hijackers To encipher or encode a message or a digital signal.
Leak Government program dedicated to supervising all citizen movement and personal information if they are considered possible terrorists.
NSA (National Security Agency) The constant condition of being closely watched by the government.
Encryption The legal principle that establishes that there should be balancing between competing values in order to decide the appropriate magnitude of a measure.
Surveillance state Spreading of secret information by an unnamed source.
The principle of Proportionality The use of violence and threats to frighten and force one’s will on another, esp. for political purposes.
Targeted surveillance Terrorists that capture or control a vehicle with people to hold them as hostages or kill them.

Answers:

Terrorism The use of violence and threats to frighten and force one’s will on another, esp. for political purposes.
Civil liberties Fundamental rights that every citizen should be entitled to have as a part of society.
Terrorist Surveillance Program Government program dedicated to supervising all citizen movement and personal information if they are considered possible terrorists.
Hijackers  Terrorists that capture or control a vehicle with people to hold them as hostages or kill them.
Leak Spreading of secret information by an unnamed source.
NSA (National Security Agency) USA government surveillance office.
Encryption To encipher or encode a message or a digital signal.
Surveillance state The constant condition of being closely watched by the government.
The principle of Proportionality The legal principle that establishes that there should be balancing between competing values in order to decide the appropriate magnitude of a measure.
Targeted surveillance Supervision focused on one particular individual who is a suspect of terrorisms or other crimes.

 

Video for classroom discussion:

Video comprehension questions:

Read the questions below and first have a guess as to what the answers might be. Then watch the video and try to answer as many questions as you can.

a) When was the Terrorist surveillance program created?
b) How many suspects were called for interviews by the FBI?
c) How many terrorists were found after all that investigation by the FBI?
d) When did the Snowden leak happen?
e) Which companies were touched by the NSA to retrieve information?
f) Who was already a target of the FBI before the surveillance programs?
g) Why did Apple decline to disable the encryption of the iPhone software?
h) What can the NSA already do to spy on people?
i) What happened after the Paris Attacks?
j) Which country has undermined freedom of speech in the last few years? How?


ANSWERS
a) After 9/11.
b) 8000 people.
c) 0 terrorists were found.
d) 2013.
e) Microsoft and Google.
f) One of the Boston Marathon Bombers.
g) Because it could be used to weaken the privacy of users and open the possibility of governments to possess control over the technology that controls the information from millions of people around the world.
h) Turn your cell phone’s microphone and your laptop’s camera on, without you noticing.
i) France expanded their anti-terrorism laws by giving law enforcement more power to conduct house raids and apply house arrests.
j) Turkey has undermined their freedom of speech by sending to prison people who criticize the government.

 

Potential debating topics for use in class:

  • Why do you think terrorism has become so widespread in the last few years? Who benefits from this? Why?
  • If 9/11 hadn’t happened, things wouldn’t be the way they are nowadays. Everything would still be completely perfect as it was before those attacks.
  • The US government has an unstoppable aspiration to become the “world police” and does not pay attention to sovereign governments or civil rights to apply the law as it wishes.
  • If you have more information, of course, you will have more chances to find the criminals and terrorists that can put us in danger: Surveillance state is a NECESSARY THING, no matter what.
  • Ethnic profiling is a must: Terrorist all come from the same place so we should just target them and no one else.
  • Could spy agencies really limit encryption at all in the future? If so, can it be stopped somehow? Why is this essential for privacy?
  • If the FBI lied to the public once, they will do it again and again as long as they fulfil their objectives in the name of “freedom” and “security”.
  • “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to fear” is completely true: everything should be public, how else could we discover terrorists and achieve true security?
  • These increases in surveillance control by the US government ARE an improvement in Democracy. Privacy elimination is just a collateral loss that we have to deal with.
  • Would a constant surveillance state be so bad if we are actually more secure with it?

Conclusion

It’s up to you now

Terrorism is a constant threat that we wish could disappear with just the right measures, but the application of a mass surveillance state represents a very controversial issue to actually expect only good things from it. Is it worth to give away your personal freedom of privacy just to see if the odds of catching terrorists might increase? Is it worth it considering that other more specialized programs actually have had good results in the past? What should be the limit of these surveillance programs? Too many questions arise from this topic and very few answers actually seem convincing, so we have to carefully consider the price we want to pay for our “true freedom”.

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