The Controversial Expansion of Government Surveillance

Won Chung's picture

In June, Edward Snowden revealed the controversial governmental surveillance programs utilized by the United States intelligence agencies, citing projects such as PRISM. These programs were intended to collect digital data about American citizens and foreigners residing in the United States. In response, many civil liberty organizations and firms have blasted away at the United States government for infringing upon the rights of its own citizens. However, the Obama Administration and heads of intelligence agencies have publicly defended the data collecting programs as means of effective measures of preventing terrorist acts against the United States and other members of NATO. Whatever the result of this controversy will be, it will undoubtedly have consequences for the scientific world, incurring new rules and restrictions on further advances.


As technology moves faster than society can comprehend, it often lags behind in understanding the true implications of inventions. Ever difficult is how people decide to use such progress in their daily lives. For the protection of the public, the United States government along with many other modern countries in the world have been utilizing the social media sites and communication systems to collect information and data on suspected individuals. On the surface, these programs may seem to be designed to only guard the public against any potential terrorist threats. However, as experts analyze the true meaning of these programs, people can’t help but notice that the government has access to all the public’s information not only that of possible terrorists. In addition, the President insists that agencies such as NSA and FBI access the information only when necessary. Yet, there have been incidents in the past when the bureaucracy failed to act in the best interest of the American people, and acted instead for its personal gains and goals. Without the reassurance that people’s information will not be mishandled, the American people have no choice but to question their government if such programs are absolutely necessary for the protection of the public.


Lacking intelligence, the aptitude of agencies to stop terrorist attacks are dramatically cut; they need all the information they can get in effectively predicting and foiling acts of terror. Programs such as PRISM feed the NSA, FBI, and other agencies with fresh, developing data to analyze, increasing the chances of finding new, possible terrorist plots. Although forfeiting civil liberties may ensure people freedom from terror, the question comes down to whether giving up civil liberties will buy them protection from their fears, including the possible threat that the government will use the information against its own citizens. Where does the line between invasion of privacy and protection of lives cross?