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Why Government Surveillance is Overall Unethical

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“Every breath you take, Every move you make….Every bond you break, Every step you take, I’ll be watching you. Every single day…Every word you say. Every game you play…Every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.” If you ever really looked into the lyrics of “Every Breath You Take” by The Police, you can think of it as the government’s theme song to you or every person that they do surveillance on. By definition, government surveillance is the practice of the government keeping an eye on all your activities as a civilian, regardless if you are aware or not, for purposes of scoping out criminals or terrorists and to ultimately put a stop to their malicious activities. This practice has existed longer than one would think, longer than before the internet or smartphones had even been invented. It not only happens within American society but also internationally, with other governments doing their own methods of domestic spying on their country’s people. According to the Encyclopedia of Human Rights in the United States, how it explains the significance of surveillance practices is that “In the criminal and anti-terrorism sense, it is an investigation process by which police or FBI or CIA or other government agents gather evidence about crimes, or suspected crime, or terrorist through continuous observation of persons or places. Observation can be visual or electronic.” By this quote alone, it can be said that government surveillance is legal through national government approval and it may definitely sound beneficial to the national security of the U.S. There is no doubt that there is good that can come out of this. The government uses these claims in order to justify that actions and that they are not harmful or unethical. Yet, to be ethical means to stand by moral principles and virtue. However, if you were to look past the big fact of surveillance existing in order to chase the bad guys and break down the smaller facts, you would be able to see that there are considerable reasons for why it is overall unethical, with these reasons ranging from privacy to the violation of constitutional rights.

The first topic on the list that would prove the immorality — at least immorality by American standards — of being watched or tracked constantly is the violation of civil rights, or the constitutional rights of the people. Through the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), the National Security Agency (NSA), FBI, and CIA have the ability to have their surveillance requests warranted so that it is possible to be on the lookout for any foreign spies that could pose a possible threat, and therefore it is legal. Regardless of how considerate that may sound for the protection of the nation, by the 1st and 4th amendments in the Bill of Rights of the U.S. Constitution, the people of America have the right to free speech and the right to privacy or to be protected from unreasonable search, and these rights are disregarded. Government surveillance is more than just a peek of your face through your webcam. This means the your activities that the government likes to monitor includes means of secretly tracking your phone records, wiretapping into audio recordings/calls, e-mails, etc. You can be on the higher side of tech expertise, yet you can still be targeted without your knowledge. That doesn’t sound very much like having your right to privacy or protection from unreasonable, right? And your full bucket of the right to free speech and expression has been reduced because the words you say on a phone call may profile you as a “potential national threat” or even have you get blackmailed. Being “free” can be an illusion at this point. As previously mentioned, government surveillance has existed for quite some time now, even before the inventions of the first smartphone or computer. Instances where foreign spying and attacks in modern U.S. history (i.e. the 9/11 attacks) have heightened the sense of paranoia to keep America secure — or at least that is what they say they are doing it for— hence leading to acts like Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act that would give permission for intelligence to do their necessary but seemingly uncomfortable observations on the public. Who is to say if they are to be trusted just as much as the next foreign government? Which leads us to number two on the list, which is power. It is simple as that in which modern technology makes it even more possible for our federal government to go above and beyond just going after the bad guys.

The more rapidly the evolution of technology, the more that the government’s spectrum of surveillance can broaden, which ultimately leads to more, or rather indefinite, power to the government and less to the people. It doesn’t help that big tech companies work hand-in-hand with the government. Referring to PBS article “Government Surveillance of Citizens Raises Civil Liberty Concerns”, “‘Meanwhile, the Washington Post revealed that the NSA and FBI have two other spying programs that target American citizens, including one that uses the data of Facebook, Google and Apple, and one that uses information from major credit card companies. Audio, video, photographs, emails, documents and connection logs ‘enable analysts to track a person’s movements and contacts over time,’ the article explains. ‘They quite literally can watch your ideas form as you type,” an unnamed career intelligence officer told the Post.’ ” Letting tech and financial companies and even have an idea of what you are doing and what you like and don’t like gives them an advantage in their marketing strategies. In result, their eager compliance with government intelligence agencies only results in double, thrice, or possible indefinite power to the government in their surveillance capabilities.

Thirdly, constant supervision of citizens’ activities and assets can definitely do more damage than good. Knowing that you are being monitored whether you are on guard or not, without a doubt, can result in psychological effects of paranoia, anxiety. The whole idea of “If you have nothing to hide, then you shouldn’t be afraid” only suggests that you are guilty if you do want privacy. Although no physical harm is being brought upon citizens, their social lives and their own feeling of security within themselves is lessened. In “Under Surveillance and Overwrought: American Muslims’ Emotional and Behavioral Responses to Government Surveillance”, authors Alexander J. O’Connor and Farhana Jahan write that “ In the case of American Muslims experiencing government surveillance, anxiety levels are likely particularly pronounced. Even when believing surveillance has ceased, they may view themselves as likely targets of future surveillance. Anxiety, not anger, is the typical response to such feelings of uncertainty and uncontrollability in response to the prospect of negative events.” Even though this article specifically focuses on how American Muslims feel under surveillance, this is a good summarization of the general feelings that many citizens feel as well. For American Muslims in particular, they are already under suspicion of terrorist motives or being guilty from the start until proven innocent, which is the opposite of the American justice system of being innocent until proven guilty. They may feel isolated from their fellow citizens, feeling more anxiety and paranoia than them. “These items attempted to capture the scenarios and people that American Muslims might avoid or act cautiously around out of anxiety that certain behaviors in these contexts, however innocuous, might elicit government surveillance”, according to the authors, and would lead to overall unhappiness. This overall unhappiness and avoidant behavior would generally apply to the rest of the public.

The government’s goal of national security from danger would be useless if they are the root and cause of their own nation’s discomfort. With these reasons in mind, there are many things that the government can do with their power. The information they obtain will always stored in their systems for years and years, until relevant circumstances require them to use that information. The innocent can be blackmailed for political purposes, and the acquired information can be spread widely, again, without our knowledge. We don’t get a say on if the government can get and keep pictures or recordings of us or not, they already do it without our permission.

“Every breath you take, Every move you make….Every bond you break, Every step you take, I’ll be watching you. Every single day…Every word you say. Every game you play…Every night you stay, I’ll be watching you.” of The Police’s song “Every Breath You Take”, it can really be taken as the theme song of the government as they are watching in on your YouTube feed or wiretapping your phone and recording a very private conversation with a significant other. The government gives but also takes away your right to be free in your speech and privacy. They say you have privacy, but not really. This right of privacy being violated gives citizens feelings of insecurity rather than security, paranoia reaching to higher heights, which is the opposite of what the government says it is trying to achieve with surveillance. And with the power that the government has in their methods of obtaining information, is it in some sense them giving themselves power instead of giving it to the people, as stated in the 10th Amendment of the Constitution? Every text, call, videos and photos on social media, and transaction histories are kept in the heart of the government’s national systems for years and years where they can pull it out for whatever they want to use it for, not even having to be used for national security purposes. Being watched is scary. Being watched knowing you can’t do much about it as an average citizen is much scarier. To place these kinds of feelings of inferiority/superiority, fear, and embarrassment upon people is unsettling to them. More importantly, it is unethical by constitutional standards for these reasons.

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