Information Technology and Ethics/Surveillance

Surveillance relates to the increased acts by the government bodies to monitor the activities of the citizens. These events tend to attempt to control the extent for which these citizens can access certain information. The systems are defined with complex mechanisms which may include monitoring information passed between citizens in various means of communication. It is an increasing trend in many countries today and is applied for different purposes such as tracking criminals, tracing calls meant for terrorist attacks, and a number of others.

The increasing trend in the technological field such as the complex connectivity of the internet, and the abilities of systems to convert and analyze information, is seen as the possible platform which embraced this move. Through this, administrators and government authorities have been able to monitor the activities of citizens and in the course control the extent for which these citizens can access information. It is attributed that the extent of internet surveillance has increased drastically since 1993 and that the sharpest incline was deduced between 2007 and 2010.[1]

Surveillance cameras, monitoring systems, RFID, and Wi-Fi have been generally utilized for traffic control and monitoring, public security, personal safety, health care, and resource tracking. Video surveillance cameras and facial detection technology have enormously improved public security. Surveillance also includes wiretapping, email logging, Data mining and profiling, and Social Network analysis [2]. Moreover, individuals’ private lives are being watched by digital eyes! [3]

The scope of surveillance, however, varies depending on the complexity of the activities or information to be guarded and the technological advancement for which the country applies. It usually ranges from low-tech systems which mainly comprises of physical coercion and reducing the freedom of expression to high developed systems with various control of communications in platforms. These sophisticated systems are usually demanding and require a real-time monitoring process which usually keys its access to email addresses, mobile phones, among others. Some countries have initiated complex software such as speech recognition which is meant to scan and screen voice conversations in various platforms to deduct sensitive sentiments made across such platforms.[4]

Monitoring of Workplace Activities, The activities of employees who are working outside of the employer’s facilities can be monitored through the advancement of technologies such as global positioning systems (GPS), smartphones, and applications; at the same time, such forms of employee monitoring can be subjected to violations of employee privacy outside of work.

Surveillance is often used by the government to gather information, prevent any crime and also used for protection of the asset. The government also use these surveillance techniques to solve the crime. Cross country surveillance is used to gather information on any threat to the Nation. Many of the Civil liberty activist as well as Civil laws view surveillance as the violation of privacy. Surveillance can be a violation of Human rights as well as a violation of freedom of speech. All the governments in the world have their own mass surveillance projects.

Methods of SurveillanceEdit

Depending upon the situation there are different methods of surveillance.

Vehicle TrackingEdit

Law enforcement agents use this surveillance technique to track the suspect vehicle or his/her whereabouts. In this surveillance method agents/officer or any interested party attach the device called “beeper” to the vehicle so that the person would be unaware of the device. Then they can track the vehicle from a distance. In some cases, the device can be hidden into the items which afterward carried by suspects.

Aerial SurveillanceEdit

Aerial Surveillance can be done through the use of Airplane and helicopters. For this person doesn't need any warrant because the requirements for warrantless aerial surveillance are that [5] : The aircraft flies at an altitude permitted by FAA regulations, The flight is conducted in a physically non-intrusive manner, and The flight altitude not be unusually low for specific areas. Visual aid is also used in aerial surveillance. The main types of visual aids now utilized in aerial surveillance are spotlighting binoculars, and Forward-Looking Infrared (FLIR).

Thermal Imaging ScanningEdit

Thermal imaging devices have been used primarily in cases where officers have reason to believe that marijuana is being grown inside a home, business, or other structure. Police may use a thermal imager to scan the outside of the structure to determine the existence and location of unusual heat sources.

Intercepting ConversationEdit

If the parties of a conversation reasonably expect privacy, authorization is required to listen to the conversation. Officers can now overhear just about anyone with modern technology. This can be achieved through audio bugs, parabolic microphones, wiretapping, email logging and the interception of electronic communication.

Social MediaEdit

In most social media services you have to register online and agree to a term of use. Your “private account” on Social Media might not be so private. People may think their site is private, but all of the content and information submitted is public. Facebook as an example watch every move of yours and customize their paid commercials and ads to pop up on your news feed. All the pictures posted on your account online are not your property anymore when published. In cases where the media posts a news article about a criminal being accused of something, the public can share this online and comment to it officially but not being face-to-face with this person. The social media makes it easier to front severe and in some situations extreme opinions about something without having to face to consequences physically. Meaning you can hide behind a screen and type something, and then close your computer and choose to deal with it later. In some cases, the people on social media can identify a felony faster than the police by unlimited access for sharing and feedback [6]

Other Surveillance MethodsEdit

There are different methods of surveillance that are low- or even no-tech. Some of these methods are listening through walls, looking through windows, looking over and through fences, drug-sniffing dogs, inspecting garbage, and examining phone and bank records.


With the increase in use of technology comes the increased threat of surveillance. It is already well-known that governments attempt to spy on its citizens; however, it was not very known until relatively recently how widespread such surveillance had come.

WikiLeaks' Vault 7Edit

In March 2017, Wikileaks began publishing documents under the release name of Vault 7[7] showing that the CIA was using hacking tools and like software to conduct surveillance on citizens[8].

While the documents originally released were left for public retrieval, Wikileaks decided to provide many specific documents and hacking tools in order to focus on specific devices that are vulnerable to exploits released in Vault 7[9].

Dark MatterEdit

WikiLeaks’ Vault 7 releases show that American intelligence agencies have been overstepping bounds that many previously had not thought of. An example is the “Dark Matter” release, which mostly revolved around exploits found in Apple products. It was found, in particular, that many Macbook products had “persistent” infections which could not be removed by reinstalling Mac OS, and that the CIA was able to persistently infect factory-fresh iPhones (meaning they could infect a pool that a nearby target was getting Apple devices from)[9].


PRISM, It is an NSA program which used to intercept all the telecommunication of the Non-resident US people who used to call US residents, Edward Snowden leaked this unlawful spying. The US companies cooperate with the government in this activity.[10] There are more details on US and British counterparts spying on the Chinese computer as well as had eavesdropped the political leaders who attended the London 2009 G20 summit.[11]

A California worker, Myrna AriasEdit

Arias claimed that her former employer at a money transfer server called Intermex had told her to install an application on her company given iPhone that tracked her 24/7. Arias was the sales executive for the company located in Bakersfield, California from February to May 2014. Intermex asked her to download the Xora application that contained a GPS function that tracked the employee’s location on Google Map. Arias claims that having the application felt like she was wearing a house arrest ankle bracelet making it uncomfortable outside of work. The company had advised Arias to keep her phone on 24/7 and to answer client calls, but she had uninstalled the application in order to protect her privacy. After doing so, she was then terminated by the company for not following company policy. In her lawsuit, Arias stated that the company had invaded her privacy during outside working hours and wrongful termination in violation of the public policy. “Now she’s suing her former employer, Intermex, for upwards of $500,000 (£319,070)”. Case No. 1:15-cv-01101 JLT. [12]

Szabo and Vissy vs HungaryEdit

The Council of Europe has approached member states to refrain from using unpredictable mass digital surveillance. In 2016, "the European Court of Human Rights (ECtHR)" conveyed a judgment on secret surveillance for the situation Szabo and Vissy vs. Hungary. The court found that Hungary’s 2011 enactment on secret surveillance disregarded article 8 of the ECHR because it neglected to protect against abuse (Fundamental Right Report 2017). They were alluding to the “Court of Justice of the European Union’s (CJEU) judgment in Digital Rights Ireland. [13] [14]


Pros of SurveillanceEdit

In the new era of digital technology, mass surveillance and data mining policies have been increasingly adopted by governments worldwide. The use of government surveillance to spy on citizens brings forth a dilemma, which should be more valued, security or personal privacy? Arguments for government surveillance often appeal to the notion that the measures taken are vital to ensure strong national security and that the effects that these policies will have on personal privacy are for the greater good. In fact, one of the most popular arguments for government surveillance states that the government’s ability to track suspected criminals and terrorists has the potential to prevent acts of terror and crime and save human lives in the process. Whereas traditional law enforcement focuses on identifying and punishing criminal offenders after they have broken a law, U.S. anti-terrorist agencies that utilize government surveillance focus on preventing terrorist attacks before they occur. This will, in theory, also deter terrorists and criminals from planning these acts in the first place because it will become too difficult to carry out the tasks without being caught before or after the act. The rationale justifying the measures that reduce personal privacy is the argument that the costs of failing to stop a terrorist attack are too high for these measures not to be taken[15]. This rationale can also be applied to other potentially preventable criminal acts such as fraud, tax evasion, and possession or distribution of child pornography. Other arguments suggest that the collection of information could be beneficial in the long run. With purposes of research in mind, the information collected could be used by social scientists to help better understand aspects of human societies[16].

Under the USA Patriot Act, law enforcement agents have the ability to use the tools which are already available to fight against organized crime and terror attacks. Under this act, government agencies can use surveillance techniques against anyone who is suspect of crime or terror. With this opportunity, the agency can investigate a terror attack without tipping off the terrorists [17]. By using this act, Law enforcement agencies can use the necessary surveillance feeds and can prevent any terrorist attack or get some help solving criminal cases. Under the USA freedom act, Government can ask the telecommunication companies to give access to call records with case by case approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court.[18] This act can help law enforcement agencies to track down the terrorists.

Cons of SurveillanceEdit

Mass surveillance efforts by governments around the world have been criticized for the violations of personal privacy that it creates in addition to the possibilities that the data being collected about ordinary citizens could be abused, misused, or used in a way in which the citizen is not comfortable. A concern that has troubled citizens since the earliest phases of computer technology is the concern over a “Big Brother” like entity being created from the vast amounts of mass surveillance and the data collected from that surveillance. However, the concern that has received the most attention and debate is the issue of the loss of personal privacy that comes with these mass surveillance programs. The goal of these government programs is to collect whatever data it possibly can, though, potentially, they would be able to collect everything about a private citizen if they were implemented correctly. The idea of this sort of government spying may change the actions and behavior of citizens, threatening civil liberties that are considered fundamental to a democracy[19]. Further issues arise when the security of the collected data is considered. There is certainly a potential for this information to be accessed by hackers with malicious intent who can abuse that information or sell it to other people or groups with their own intentions in mind.

By examining the benefits and consequences of government surveillance programs, it can be concluded that government surveillance can be instrumental in providing the necessary security to potentially prevent terrorist acts or other criminal activities before they happen. However, with the importance of personal privacy in mind, there are still concerns as to whether or not methods of surveillance are necessary to carry out these tasks and whether it is worth the loss of a significant degree of personal privacy.

Although Law enforcement agencies are getting some access to perform Surveillance activities however Surveillance on the basis of suspicious activity as well as intercepting the telecommunication might violates the “First and Fourth Amendments” which is “Freedom of Speech” - First Amendment [20], “prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures and requires any warrant to be judicially sanctioned” - Fourth Amendments [21].


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  3. Mitrou, L., Kandias, M., Stavrou, V., & Gritzalis, D. (2014, April). Social media profiling: A Panopticon or Omniopticon tool?. In Proc. of the 6th Conference of the Surveillance Studies Network.
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  5. FAA Regulations(2017, Oct 27)
  6. Kim, J., & Hastak, M. (2018). Social network analysis: Characteristics of online social networks after a disaster. International Journal of Information Management, 38(1), 86-96.Kim, J., & Hastak, M. (2018). Social network analysis: Characteristics of online social networks after a disaster. International Journal of Information Management, 38(1), 86-96.
  7. Vault7 - Home, WikiLeaks
  8. Shane Scott, Matthew Rosenberg, and Andrew W. Lehren, WikiLeaks Releases Trove of Alleged C.I.A. Hacking Documents, The New York Times, Mar. 7, 2017
  9. a b Vault 7: Projects, WikiLeaks
  10. G. Greenwald, "NSA Prism Program Taps into User Data of Apple Google and Others" in, Guardian, pp. 1, June 2013.
  11. S. Shane, R. Somaiya, "New Leak Indicates Britain and US Tracked Diplomats" in, New York Times, pp. June, 2013
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  15. Dragu, Tiberiu (2011). Is There a Trade-off between Security and Liberty? Executive Bias, Privacy. The American Political Science Review Protections, and Terrorism Prevention, 105(1), 64-78.
  16. Mass Government Surveillance Pros and Cons: Is NSA Internet Spying and Data Mining Justified?
  17. Lassus, K. J. (2003). U.S.A. Patriot Act: Compatriot in Arms or Enemy of American Civil Liberty? doi:10.21236/ada415311
  18. NSA Ends Sept. 11-Era Surveillance Program".
  19. Richards, Neil M. (2013). The Dangers of Surveillance. Harvard Law Review, 126, 1934-1965.
  20. LII Staff (2017, Oct 10) First Amendment. Retrieved from
  21. LII Staff. (2017, October 10). Fourth Amendment. Retrieved from