Concerning Justifiable Surveillance
The right to privacy refers to the concept in which one is allowed to control who has access to things in his or her life. In simpler terms, it could be described as the right to be left alone. This right is particularly powerful, as it protects individuality as well as the ability to be truly free.
As technology has envelopes more aspects of daily life, it becomes much more challenging to maintain privacy. Most people, as casual users of the Internet and technology, are unaware of that they are being monitored. Through the Edward Snowden leaks, society has become more aware of the government’s large-scale monitoring and data storage of online activities. Other laws, such as the now-expired Patriot Act, had in the past allowed the government almost unrestricted access to monitor anyone based on vague suspicions.
In the digital age, the footprint people leave online grants as much information as one might find searching through a living space. This information should be private, but without specific privacy maintenance, this is often not the case. Access to this information through surveillance is not justifiable and is a clear invasion of the right to privacy. However, this does not imply that all monitoring is inappropriate.
The USA Freedom Act, successor of the Patriot Act, demonstrates improper monitoring of digital data. The act amends certain provisions of its predecessor, such as limiting government access to telephone data. Although a definite improvement on the Patriot Act, it currently still grants the government the ability to siphon and search internet communication data through loopholes(KAYYALI, 2014). The fact that the government even has access to this data can be considered “unreasonable search”. This is a clear violation of the 4th amendment, of which includes the right to privacy. The government should not be permitted to violate the very restrictions under which it was granted power.
Only in very specific cases would I say that digital monitoring can be justified. These conditions would include that the subject being monitored is aware that he is being monitored and that the person or people monitoring have ownership of the area under surveillance. For example, when entering a shop, the owner has every right to monitor you, as you are entering into a place of his ownership. Following these guidelines, the internet, as a series of servers that communicates with each other using the same protocol, is not owned by any particular entity, and surveillance of online activity would be illegitimate.
Digital technology thus calls for further evolution of privacy rights, both conceptually and in law (DeVries, 2003). The UN has recently adopted a new resolution on the right to privacy in the digital age in November 2016. This resolution outlines important aspects of privacy in the digital age, such as the negative impact that surveillance of communications may have on the exercise of human rights, and that the states must ensure that measures taken to combat terrorism are in compliance with their obligations under international law (GANGULY, 2015). Unfortunately, this resolution, as grand as it appears, has no real binding power in the sense of laws and is merely a recommendation. However, the resolution is definitely a good starting point to improving more justified surveillance in the digital age.
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GANGULY, S. (2015). United Nations Resolution on the Right to Privacy in the Digital Age. In FIDLER D. (Ed.), The Snowden Reader (pp. 313–316). Indiana University Press. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org.libaccess.sjlibrary.org/stable/j.ctt16gh840.47
KAYYALI, D. (2014, May 08). The Way the NSA Uses Section 702 is Deeply Troubling. Here’s Why. Retrieved February 15, 2017, from https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2014/05/way-nsa-uses-section-702-deeply-troubling-heres-why