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This House would require government to obtain warrants to access data that can be used to track an individual
This House would require government to obtain warrants to access data that can be used to track an individual
For the summer of 2013, the question of security versus privacy was debated and discussed all around the world, due to the leaks about intelligence agencies surveillance systems provided by Edward Snowden to newspapers such as The Guardian. Snowden was a NSA whistleblower who revealed that the National Security Agency was conducting a massive campaign through which it was using telephones, the internet and other technologies to engage in spying, monitoring and tracking the actions of foreigners, and through other intelligence agencies such as GCHQ U.S. citizens, often without any warrant and often oversight systems were seen to be failing or ignored.
This showed the world that the intelligence services have the capability of secretly monitoring a large part of the population without anyone having a single clue. In this debate, many proponents argue that the right to privacy is inalienable and that we must protect ourselves from an otherwise abusive government, while on the other side it is claimed that it is security which should be prioritized and that this kind of measure will lead to lives being saved and criminals behind bars. At the moment, in most of western states, the police must have a warrant in order to track someone’s phone, car or internet action, but this may not or may not be the case for other surveillance as carried out by intelligence agencies.
|Points For||Points Against|
|Freedom from government intrusion||Purpose of the state|
|Warrants are needed to prevent abuse||A safer country|
|Reducing trust in the state||The public can’t decide what they want|
|Changes in behaviour||Warrants are ineffective|
Remember to choose a winning argument!
Freedom from government intrusion
One of the most important pillars on which every single western liberal democracy has been founded is freedom. Allowing the government to be able to track and monitor individuals through mobile or internet connections is against everything we, as a western society, stand for.
First of all, it is undisputable that liberty and freedom are indispensable to our society. Every single individual should and must be the master of his own life, he should have the capacity of controlling how much the government or other individuals know about him, the right to private life being the main argument in this dispute.
Secondly, it is clear that phone and internet tracking potentially allow the government to know almost everything about you. Most phones have a GPS incorporated and a lot can be deduced about ones habits by the photos or updates on his social network profile. One who knows all of another’s travels, can deduce whether he is a weekly church goer, a heavy drinker, a regular at the gym, an unfaithful husband, an outpatient receiving medical treatment, an associate of particular individuals or political groups, basically about every activity you have in your life. Remember this data is extremely precise, as your cell phone sends your location back to cell phone towers every seven seconds—whether you are using your phone or not—potentially giving the authorities a virtual map of where you are 24/7.
Finally, we, as individuals, created this artificial structure, i.e the state, to protect our human rights, but also to protect us from each other. We admitted that some rights can be taken away if there is serious concern about the security of other people. Therefore, it is absolutely normal to allow the government to track and follow certain individuals who are believed to have taken part in criminal activities, but there is no ground on which you can violate the right to privacy of a law-abiding citizen, especially if we are talking about such an intrusive policy. If we did so, it would come as a direct contradiction with the very purpose the state was created.Improve this
What is imperative to understand is that principles are never the end result; they are simply the means to an end. We rely on certain principles like the philosophy of liberty and freedom because in general they have positive outcomes on our lives. The question which rises on this point is what principle, protection freedom, brings more benefits to us.
The freedom of no one knowing your whereabouts and the right to privacy may sound good in theory, but the truth is they don’t have any effect on the individual. No matter if my phone is connected to the NSA headquarters or not, my day remains exactly the same and nothing changes. I face the same obstacles and joys and I feel the same emotions, as I am not aware of this tracking. But if we prioritize protection over freedom we see that there is significant change in someone’s life. As the government will stop and prevent more crimes happening by tracing and intercepting calls and e-mail s, the lives of the citizens will be drastically improved. Any stopped crime means that the potential victim of that crime has a dramatic improvement in their safety and quality of life.
In the end, we clearly see that protection must be prioritized over freedom as it has more practical benefits upon the population.Improve this
Warrants are needed to prevent abuse
In the light of the recent NSA events(1) , we must try and see past this curtain of fog the government has put in front of us, trying to make us believe that everything it does, it does for our own good and that in this process the law is being respected to the letter. Unfortunately, if the necessary system of checks-and-balances between the government and the masses or judicial courts is lacking, it will always find ways to abuse its powers and violate our rights. Even with the warrant currently being mandatory when trying to tap one’s phone, we see that Justice Department’s warrantless spying increased 600 percent in decade(2). If the government is currently invading our lives when we have specific laws banning it from doing so, why should we believe that this phenomenon won’t escalate if we scrap those laws?
The government's biggest limitation when actively trying to spy or follow a large group of people was technological; it was difficult - if not impossible - to follow a lot of people for days at a time. But with surveillance tools it’s becoming cheaper and easier, as is proven by the astounding 1.3 million demands for user cell phone data in the last year “seeking text messages, caller locations and other information”(3.) Without the resource limitations that used to discourage the government from tracking you without good reason, the limits on when and how geolocation data can be accessed are unclear. A police department, for example, might not have the resources to follow everyone who lives within a city block for a month, but without clear rules for electronic tracking there is nothing to stop it from requesting every resident's cell phone location history.
Considering these facts, it is clear that, as we live in a time when it would be extremely easy for the government to engage in mass surveillance of the population, we must enforce and harden the current laws for our own protection, rather than abandoning then for good. No matter what, George Orwell’s books should not be perceived as a model for shaping our society.
At the end of the day, without any oversight, it would be extremely easy for the government to abuse this power given to it by electronic surveillance tools, without us ever knowing it. This system is the only thing left that prevents government agencies to violate our rights.
(1) Electronic Frontier Foundation https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying/how-it-works
(2) David Kravets” Justice Department’s Warrantless Spying Increased 600 Percent in Decade”, “Wired” 09.27.12 http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/09/warrantless-surveillance-stats/
(3) Trevor Timm , “Law Enforcement Agencies Demanded Cell Phone User Info Far More Than 1.3 Million Times Last Year”, “Electronic Frontier Foundation” July 9, 2012 https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/07/law-enforcement-agencies-demanded-cell-phone-user-info-much-more-13-million-timesImprove this
Those who satisfy these demands by citizens are more likely to be voted back into office. It is in their absolute interest to keep their focus on relevant emails or phone talks, as if they don’t do that, there is another person qualified for the job who will.
Secondly, it is clear that in this quest for protecting society, it is in the government’s interest to obey the law. As recent events have proven, the population is allergic to any state agency’s violation of law, especially when it comes to warrantless tapping. They won’t risk breaking the law in the hope they will catch more criminals as they know there would be a society and media backlash. If anything, it is in any politician’s interest to search and investigate if any government agency is conducting such abuses and to reveal it with the resulting plaudits and votes it will bring. A politician will gain much more if it takes a public stance against that agency by imposing tighter controls and inspections rather than secretly supporting it. Let us not forget that it is the people who keep politicians in office.
Thirdly, we must remember that there is a lot of pressure from different NGOs and even whistleblowers that is put on these officials not to make any wrong steps. They know that if the population finds out that they focused on anything else but catching wrong doers, their career is over and there is no coming back.
As a result, we have every reason to believe that the government will maximize its efforts of protecting us, but abusing its powers won’t benefit it on any level.Improve this
Reducing trust in the state
In a world where state agencies would have the possibility of tracking everyone’s moves without any person knowing it, we would reach a point in which the population lose their trust in their elected officials. The consequences could then be very damaging to democracy. This phenomenon took place right after the NSA leaks, as the confidence in the US government was near record’s low.(1)
First of all, the population would know that the government is spying and tracking their moves, but they wouldn’t know how much. This general lack of information on this matter will create a lot of scepticism relating this process, and inevitably the population will reach the conclusion that the government is conducting massive phone tapping and spying campaigns as no one is checking on them.
Despite potential official document trying to give certain facts regarding this, due to the previous incidents when the state has been releasing little or misleading information, these will have little influence over the population. As a result, trust in the state will suffer a massive blow.
This is extremely problematic, as you want and need the general population to trust and listen to what the government, and more particularly law enforcement agencies, say in a lot of instances. When promoting non-discrimination, gender equality or increased social welfare contributions for the poor, you need the population to see the state as someone who is on the same side with them and someone who they can trust. Unfortunately, the scepticism with which those beneficial government proposals will be received will drastically reduce their impact and the chances of them being implemented. If I do not trust that the government is looking after my own good, but rather in a lot of instances its interests are mutually exclusive with mine, then I would most probably lose my respect towards authority.
When talking about law enforcement agencies, i.e the police, the NSA, etc., it is clear that we have trusted them to protect us and our rights. When it is those very agencies that are conducting these warrantless spying campaigns, it comes as a direct contradiction with their very purpose and thus the impact and the loss of trust is higher on this level.
Moreover, in the long term, the whole electoral process could suffer a lot from this lack of confidence, as individuals aren’t particularly inclined to go to elections any more if they see that no matter what they do, their rights will still be breached.
As you need the population to trust the government, so that its reforms are being met with positivism and not reluctance, you must not portray the government as an intrusive, harmful and ill-willing element of the society.
(1) Harry J Enten ” Polls show Obama's real worry: NSA leaks erode trust in government”, The Guardian, 13 June 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/13/poll-obama-nsa-leaks-trustImprove this
Undeniably, any government needs confidence and trust from the population in order to implement reforms in an efficient way. You need the citizens to be on the same side with the elected officials rather than trying to impede them from doing their job. Despite this, there won’t be any lack of trust as a result of scraping warrants.
In order to prove this fact, one must look at the source that makes the population trust the government. There might be some mistrust in the beginning as a result of the protests that will come as soon as the scrapping occurs, but this won’t last long. In time, as society becomes safer, as terrorist attacks and crimes become scarcer, there government’s good image will return. Results are what people care about. Let us not forget that the biggest blow that a state’s image can receive happens when it is unable to protect its citizens. No matter if we are talking about 9/11, London Metro Bombings or the ones which happened at Domodedovo Airport in Moscow, each and every time the government was held responsible for its failure to prevent the attacks.
If we are to talk about the state’s image and legitimacy, as the numbers of these types of regrettable events will decrease, the influence of the government and the way it is perceived can only rise.
Changes in behaviour
Surveillance changes the way we make daily decisions—the same way that a rapidly approaching police car in your rear-view mirror may make you feel nervous even when you are driving completely lawfully. The very existence of a mass surveillance system will negatively influence the behaviour and emotions of a significant majority of the population.
First, surveillance affects emotions and mental performance, as it leads to heightened levels of stress, fatigue and anxiety due to the constant feeling that you are being watched.(1)
Secondly, it creates conformity to social norms. “In a series of classic experiments during the 1950s, psychologist Solomon Asch showed that conformity is so powerful that individuals will follow the crowd even when the crowd is obviously wrong. A government that engages in mass surveillance cannot claim to value innovation, critical thinking, or originality.”(2)
This is of extreme importance as first of all, it is the state’s duty to create the most peaceful and harmonious environment in which the individual can reach its full potential (this one clearly not being it) and second if we don’t feel free to do things that are perfectly legal because we think someone might think it suspicious or out of character then it is difficult to say we are really free.
(1) M.J. Smith, P. Carayon, K.J. Sanders, S-Y. Lim, D. LeGrande “Employee stress and health complaints in jobs with and without electronic performance monitoring”, 1992 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/000368709290006H
(2) Chris Chambers ” NSA and GCHQ: the flawed psychology of government mass surveillance”, The Guardian, 26 August 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2013/aug/26/nsa-gchq-psychology-government-mass-surveillanceImprove this
In order to fully understand the impact of such measure would have over the human mind we must take into consideration that generally people have a very complicated and busy life starting from going to work, taking care of your kids, paying the bills and many more.
Maybe this won’t be the case initially, but as time goes by and as you don’t feel any kind of physical effects from being under surveillance, slowly, this feeling of anxiety would fade away. Individuals will reach the conclusion that nobody is tracking them. Or at least they won’t care about it. This takes place because a person is more likely to focus on the things they love, they do or which generally surround them and have a visible effect on their life like their families, jobs or passions rather than on an uncertain possible action performed by a distant actor, especially which isn’t palpable.
Second, even if some people do feel this anxiety and can’t seem to be able to find a way to get rid of it, it would still be a small price to pay in order to have a more protected society. It is better to live your life, albeit with some moments when you feel stressed than not being able to live it at all.Improve this
Purpose of the state
We as individuals created the state in order to protect and improve our lives. We gave it the burden of improving our lives from multiple points of view, economically, socially, environmentally, etc. But before these, in order for one to benefit from this advantages that the state brings, he must be alive, therefore the main burden and purpose of the state is the protection of its citizens’ lives. As a result, when judging a principle, one must mainly look if it is helping or preventing the state from reaching its ultimate purpose.
As a result, it is legitimate to risk sacrificing your right to private life in order for better protection. The existence of mandatory warrants can bring, as an advantage, only a vague feeling of safety and happiness, as there is no real harm for you if someone is tapping your phone, as long as you are a law-abiding citizen.
On the other hand a world in which the government wouldn’t be forced to obtain warrants would be much safer for the individuals, as the government would be able to intercept and trace more criminals. If one life is saved by this policy, it will be worth it!Improve this
It may be true that we gave the state the burden and the duty to protect us and it is a very high-ranking priority. But this doesn’t justify sacrificing day-to-day freedom just for the state to fulfil its duty a little bit more.
We cannot say that the state can do whatever it wants as long as it does that for the safety of our safety. On that logic, it would be OK for the government to have a bodyguard stand next to us without our consent for every single minute of our lives, as that way, we would be more protected. The Supreme Court ruled on this in 2012 and held that police need a warrant to attach at GPS device to a car.(1) One cannot say specifically what the main purpose of the state is, as it’s rather a combination of protecting us and serving us. As it is the population who controls the government and not vice-versa, it must be up to them to decide where to draw the line between security and privacy.
What we see on this level is that by engaging in these sorts of operations, the government is not fulfilling its purpose as there are a lot of harmful effects that the citizens would feel if large scale tapping will take place. Maybe some people don’t mind being spied on, but there is a significant majority of people who do. This constant feeling that you are followed translates into fear, anxiety, restlessness or stress. In turn, these emotions affect your day to day life prohibiting you from enjoying it. So on this level, the state is failing at its purpose to improve the lives of the mass population.
(1) Trevor Timm , “Law Enforcement Agencies Demanded Cell Phone User Info Far More Than 1.3 Million Times Last Year”, “Electronic Frontier Foundation” July 9, 2012 https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/07/law-enforcement-agencies-demanded-cell-phone-user-info-much-more-13-million-timesImprove this
A safer country
On this point, there are two levels on which a government which isn’t forced to obtain warrants protects the population better. In 2011 violent crime went up for the first time since 1993 data collected by the Bureau of Justice Statistics in telephone surveys showed a 22 percent increase in assaults so something clearly needs to be done to stop violent crime.(1)
First of all, let’s not imagine that there are people hired by the government who will listen to every single word of every single conversation and that every email will be read word for word. In this type of situation, the police uses special software designed to identify certain key words like “murder”, “Al Qaeda”, etc as well as more subtle combinations which could possibly be a clue towards finding certain criminals. If someone is talking or emailing about certain wanted criminals belonging to military militias or terrorist organizations, I would want to know what they were talking about. Now, we have the possibility of doing that, as, last year, for instance, the FBI requested help to develop a social-media mining application for monitoring "bad actors or groups".(2) The problem is the initial search needs to be general to find these individuals in the general mass of the world’s population.
This is an efficient way of discovering new previously-unknown criminals. In the past, there would have been no way of ever discovering these individuals and they would continue to be a threat to innocent civilians.
Secondly, this improved government control over phones and the internet would be an immense deterrent. It would prevent people from engaging in planned crime as the chances of them getting caught are drastically improved. Deterrence relies on the criminal knowing that they are likely to be caught, knowing your communications are monitored will make people believe they are more likely to be caught. So, not only will the police be able to catch active criminals but will prevent other persons from engaging in this type of actions.
(1) Terry Frieden ” U.S. violent crime up for first time in years”, CNN ,October 17, 2012 http://edition.cnn.com/2012/10/17/us/violent-crime/index.html
(2) Ryan Gallagher ”Software that tracks people on social media created by defence firm”, The Guardian, 10 February 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/10/software-tracks-social-media-defenceImprove this
It is obvious that warrantless tracking of citizens is not the only way to fight crime. There are other ways which do not negatively impact the citizens to such an extent.
When talking exclusively about protection, the government could have better trained police officers, harsher laws in other to deter criminals from committing infractions, improved gun control regulations and a more efficient judicial system. There a lot of alternatives to this, as the elected officials must understand that they need to choose a path which does not hurt the population.
Moreover, if we look at statistics (1), in most of the western world, the crime rate has been decreasing. Slowly but surely, crimes are falling and our societies are becoming safer and safer. Thus, not only we have other ways of fighting crime, but crime is becoming less of a problem, so do we really need new intrusive measures to deal with it?
(1) Eurostat Statistics, http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-SF-13-018/EN/KS-SF-13-018-EN.PDFImprove this
The public can’t decide what they want
Sadly, we reached a point in our desperate quest for perfection where the population, through its mutually exclusive demands, has ended up putting the government between a rock and an anvil. The population then blames the government for not being able to fulfill these demands, when actually we are at fault.
We demand our government protects us from terrorists, criminal organizations and in general people who want to harm us. If it fails to do this job, we blame it and throw dirt at it for being inefficient. But what we see is that although the state has the power to launch a full campaign against wrong-doers through electronic surveillance means, we deny him the possibility of doing that. If, by chance, the government is breaking this law when trying to stop and prevent crimes from happening, like in the example of the NSA, again we launch meaningless offenses and start accusing state agencies for being too intrusive. This fickleness is shown by polling; in 2010 47% of Americans thought that anti-terror programs had not gone far enough to protect the country, three years later that figure had dropped to 35% while those thinking the programs restrict liberties had risen from 32% to 47% with little change in how much was actually being done.(1)
(1) “Few See Adequate Limits on NSA Surveillance Program” July 26, 2013 http://www.people-press.org/2013/07/26/few-see-adequate-limits-on-nsa-surveillance-program/Improve this
It is clear that the population has high demands and high expectations from the government, but that is because it should do. It is clear that every time the state fails to protect us, every time it breaks the law and every time it violates our constitutional rights, the state needs to be held to account. But that doesn’t mean the state’s job is impossible and unfeasible simply that it needs to learn and improve from its mistakes, and the only way this will happen is if it is open and transparent about its systems.
In addition, crime has fallen in the western world, governments can and do both protect the civilians and respect their rights at the same time. Such a system requires warrants and check and balances on government. The population may sway in terms of its demands but this is mostly driven by events; when there is a large terrorist attack there is a response, when government goes too far again the people will respond. This ensures that the government strikes the right balance.Improve this
Warrants are ineffective
One of the main reasons for scraping the warrant-system is because of its ineffectiveness. This system of checks-and-balances was created in order to prevent the government from over monitoring the population, but unfortunately, lately, they have just become another administrative and bureaucratic step in achieving that surveillance.
If we look at the statistics which revolve around the FISA court, the one which emitted warrants for the NSA, we see that it “has rejected .03 percent of all government surveillance requests”(1). This is absolutely preposterous, as one cannot reasonably assume that no abusive requests were submitted. As a result, even if there was a so-called preventive purpose of warrants, they are far from achieving it.
(1) Erika Eichelberger “FISA Court Has Rejected .03 Percent Of All Government Surveillance Requests” Mon Jun. 10, 2013 http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/06/fisa-court-nsa-spying-opinion-reject-requestImprove this
It is absolutely clear that there exists a need for a system to keep the government in check. We can’t just stand and do nothing, while hoping for the best. There are two reasons why it is justified to keep the warrants.
It is cases like this that shift opinion and force Government to reverse course. As a result everyone, including FISA and other courts will be much more careful, even with no new laws when scrutinising warrants as nobody is willing to risk another scandal happening.
Secondly, this is an argument for tightening up the warrant system not against warrants themselves. It there is such a problem, let’s make warrants harder to obtain with more scrutiny before they are granted, along with more punitive punishments for abuse, more controls and a higher number of inspections. If so few warrants are being rejected there clearly needs to be more done to prevent the government from abusing its powers.Improve this
(1) Eurostat Statistics, http://epp.eurostat.ec.europa.eu/cache/ITY_OFFPUB/KS-SF-13-018/EN/KS-SF-13-018-EN.PDF
(2) Terry Frieden ” U.S. violent crime up for first time in years”, CNN ,October 17, 2012 http://edition.cnn.com/2012/10/17/us/violent-crime/index.html
(3) Ryan Gallagher ”Software that tracks people on social media created by defence firm”, The Guardian, 10 February 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/world/2013/feb/10/software-tracks-social-media-defence
(4) Trevor Timm , “Law Enforcement Agencies Demanded Cell Phone User Info Far More Than 1.3 Million Times Last Year”, “Electronic Frontier Foundation” July 9, 2012 https://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2012/07/law-enforcement-agencies-demanded-cell-phone-user-info-much-more-13-million-times
(5) David Kravets” Justice Department’s Warrantless Spying Increased 600 Percent in Decade”, “Wired” 09.27.12 http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/09/warrantless-surveillance-stats/
(6) Electronic Frontier Foundation https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying/how-it-works
(7) “Few See Adequate Limits on NSA Surveillance Program” July 26, 2013 http://www.people-press.org/2013/07/26/few-see-adequate-limits-on-nsa-surveillance-program/
(8) Harry J Enten ” Polls show Obama's real worry: NSA leaks erode trust in government”, The Guardian, 13 June 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2013/jun/13/poll-obama-nsa-leaks-trust
(9) M.J. Smith, P. Carayon, K.J. Sanders, S-Y. Lim, D. LeGrande “Employee stress and health complaints in jobs with and without electronic performance monitoring”, 1992 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/000368709290006H
(10) Chris Chambers ” NSA and GCHQ: the flawed psychology of government mass surveillance”, The Guardian, 26 August 2013 http://www.theguardian.com/science/head-quarters/2013/aug/26/nsa-gchq-psychology-government-mass-surveillance
(11) Erika Eichelberger “FISA Court Has Rejected .03 Percent Of All Government Surveillance Requests” Mon Jun. 10, 2013 http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2013/06/fisa-court-nsa-spying-opinion-reject-request
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