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Security Surveillance: Privacy Versus Protection

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Over the summer, my grandmother purchased a wireless security camera for her backyard that is controlled by an application on her smartphone. As I assisted her in installing this camera, I began to wonder if she was the only person who was viewing the video recordings or if the company who developed the camera and app had access to the footage that the camera was recording and if that footage was being dispersed to any outside groups of people or agencies. This curiosity concerning this topic led to my thinking about other closely related security issues. This created a sense of concern that while trying to prevent crime and terrorism, public surveillance could potentially be excessively invading the privacy of millions of people. As I was assigned the task of extensively investigating a question of interest and writing an exploratory essay regarding that topic, I immediately knew that the question that I would explore would pertain to surveillance, its benefits, and possible inherent dangers. By researching the question, “Has surveillance been carried too far or is it a necessary aspect of society that citizens must come to terms with in order to maintain a sense of safety and security?”, it is my intent to obtain a better understanding of this compelling and, I believe, essential question.

This issue has serious implications for people across the globe and is a problem that, if left unchallenged, could worsen. The ongoing issue regarding security surveillance affects almost every human on the face of the earth. Security surveillance appears almost everywhere now. Whether it be through text messages, emails, web history, or even personal phone calls, there is always someone watching or listening and there is really no way to avoid it. When exploring the controversial topic of surveillance and its overall consequences on society, one potential perspective regarding this topic seems to be that while surveillance does indeed infringe on the private lives of people, it is an effective means of preventing certain crimes and terroristic activities and citizens affected by this invasion of privacy must come to terms with the implications that are associated with surveillance and its essential goal to prevent events from occurring that could potentially endanger the lives of US Citizens. The government’s observation of the activities of millions of people is so inconspicuous that it is nearly undetectable. While this in-depth surveillance may seem very intrusive, it is very effective in preventing certain acts of crime and terrorism from occurring.

The National Security Administration possesses tools that allow them to prevent almost every terroristic event based on the millions of phone records that their computers sort through and narrow down to terminate plots to harm others. While these methods undoubtedly save lives, citizens have to relinquish their right to privacy and any information that they disclose that is able to be intercepted by or sold to a government agency. Dan Parsons further warns that “As technology further develops and the government’s capacity for collecting and storing metadata increases, privacy of communication likely will continue to erode…”. Americans are their own worst enemy when it comes to remaining private in this highly advanced world because technology is providing people with the platform to basically create their own personal surveillance log based on their uses of technology and social media. The private lives of millions of people have, without a doubt, been diminished because of the constantly advancing technology that is made more available every day.

Airports are another area where privacy is relinquished every day through the use of full body scanners. One negative aspect of these detectors is that they show an in depth pictorial representations of what is under the clothes of each individual person that goes through the TSA security lines at airports across the country. The use of millimeter wave body scanners heavily invades the privacy of millions of people each year, but these scanners can detect anything and everything that could pose as a threat to passengers on airplanes. While most would consider the use of surveillance to be an invasion of privacy, not all people realize that there is truly nothing that can be done to avoid being surveilled by a higher authority. Contrary to popular belief, anything that occurs in a public place cannot be considered to be held private because there is, by law, no true regulation placed upon video surveillance.

Due to the events that occurred on September 11, 2001, the PATRIOT Act was created by the United States government to prevent and thwart any plans to carry out terroristic activities. This act of legislation provided government agencies such as the NSA and the FBI to fight the battle against terrorism through the use of electronically based surveillance. The NSA and other government agencies are legally allowed to cipher through millions of phone records and other data without a search warrant and without the person involved even knowing that their information is being filed through.

When considering the morality and correctness of government surveillance, many connections are made to George Orwell’s widely famous novel, 1984, and its criticism of government spying and its immorality which proves to be significantly relevant to the way the United States government operates today. Along with surveillance through technology, US Courts have justified that it is widely understood that whether someone be in a public area such as a sidewalk, a person’s own front lawn, or even the public area of a public bathroom, it is expected that there could potentially be video surveillance being carried out. However, Jeremy Brown concludes that “…the law enforcement community and privacy activists must work together to develop and push through regulation now. They must act while the video surveillance infrastructure is still being built and can still be designed to incorporate privacy concerns. ” Although the use of surveillance and its overall effect on society is often brought to question, a large majority of people possess the perspective that surveillance is perfectly legal and is, indeed, an effective means of crime prevention and terrorist screening. Basically, when a person enters a public area that is a place where it is implied that someone is watching, it is legal for there to be video surveillance. If people are within an area that someone could reasonably make observations of a person, then it can be inferred that there is no privacy in that information. There are many laws and legislation that validifies the use of surveillance through many different techniques in order to prevent terrorism and crime from occurring. After 9/11, many laws such as the PATRIOT Act and the preceding USA Freedom Act were put into place to override any previous legislation that prevented government surveillance from taking place in order to prevent another horrific event from occurring again, and those laws have proven to be very successful.

Another way that surveillance proves to be successful is in the field of GPS tracking, which allows government agencies and other groups to pinpoint the exact location of a certain person at a certain place at a certain time. Mark Tunic ultimately concludes that “Technologies of surveillance may reveal more efficiently or safely what could be revealed through legitimate means only with some luck, great cost, and considerable risk. ” While researching my initial inquiry, “Has surveillance been carried too far or is it a necessary aspect of society that citizens must come to terms with in order to maintain a sense of safety and security?”, I discovered a wide range of perspectives on this highly controversial topic. Because “privacy” and “surveillance, ” by their definition, seem to be mutually exclusive terms, the topic is only made more complex with added legal and moral concerns. The challenge of somehow coming to terms with the need for both in today’s very open and transparent society is a daunting one, to say the least.

Based upon my research, one of the pivotal incidents that truly forced the government to more intensely surveil the citizens of the United States was 9/11. After this unprecedented American tragedy, the government and its respective organizations began to heavily observe its citizens in an attempt to thwart any potential threats from being carried out. This topic is a very relevant and important question to investigate because it is a problem that affects every citizen in the United States and other countries. The exploration of this topic has created new questions for me.

One of the most significant questions that I find very important is whether there are any potential laws that are under serious consideration that might have any effect on how surveillance is carried out in the United States. Many questions involving surveillance are difficult to answer because of the confidential nature of this topic. In order to answer these difficult questions, I will be compelled to look further into different sources for a better understanding of how the presence of ever-increasing public surveillance can coexist with a society that values its right to privacy and dive deeper into the true purpose of public surveillance. Ironically, as in the case of my grandmother’s attempt to protect her home and her property, the attempt to prevent crime itself may have initiated an unexpected area of exposure and a threat to her own personal privacy.

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