The Effectiveness And Ethicality Of Mass Surveillance

2366 words - 10 pages

In the wake of the National Security Agency's (NSA) scandal of 2013, the principles and usage of surveillance programs have been debated on an international level. The debacle began when former NSA contractor, Edward Snowden, released classified security files on the NSA's mass data surveillance programs to journalists at The Guardian, a British newspaper ("The Surveillance State..."). The contents of the leaks reveal intrusive programs, such as PRISM, that obtain large amounts of user data from American companies in the form of telephone numbers, emails, private documents, and videos, all in the name of preventing terrorist activity ("The Surveillance State..."). The existence of such data mining without the users' knowledge or consent catalyzes enormous controversy among U.S. citizens and global leaders, in spite of assurances from American government authorities that the usage of mass surveillance is imperative to inhibiting terrorist activities in America. Despite these claims, there is no substantial evidence that mass telephone and internet surveillance is essential to preventing terrorist activities because of statistical and situational support and the violation of ethical and legal citizen privacy rights.
Mass surveillance measures have been used since the Bush administration to catch terrorists before they can strike, thanks to the creation of the Patriot Act of 2001 and the prominent principles laid out in Section 215 and Section 702 of the legislative; over 50 cases have been cited as successes because of the usage of these methods (Bergen et al.). However, that claim is not entirely accurate; the director of the NSA, General Keith Alexander, later claimed that in four of the twelve terrorist cases allegedly catalyzed by Section 215 methods, the bulk record examinations failed to create a lead (Bergen et al.). More importantly, he also stated that only one plot extracted from telephone surveillance under Section 215, the 2007 case of Basaly Moalin, actually prevented a terrorist act (Bergen et al.). Even still, the case did not involve an American attack plot or danger to American persons, and instead involved money being transported to a foreign terrorist organization (Bergen et al.). While still alarming, the case does not prove to be a valid defense for the bulk surveillance's success in preventing terrorist activity, since there was technically no terrorist plot involved to create terrorist activity. In conjunction with this case, a study that was released in January 2014 by the New American Foundation's National Security Program created a database of 225 persons in the U.S. and abroad who have been "indicted, convicted, or killed" since September 11, 2001 (Bergen et al.). The study revealed that out of the 225 cases, 60 percent of the identified occurrences were caused by "traditional investigative methods," or methods not pertaining to Section 215 or 702 of NSA bulk surveillance, and only 7.5 percent of the cases involved the...

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