Government surveillance

Many counties keep watching on people under the name of ” ensure social safety”. However, is it a price too high to do so?  Is it really necessary that we need such a surveillance to guarantee our safety?

1) Your address book is the NSA’s address book 

According to the Washington Post, NSA has been collecting millions of email and chat contact lists around the world (West 2013). Although the spokesman claimed that they would not invade ordinary people’s information around untied states, people still feel insecure and worried about such a watching. Surveillance just like an intangible hand makes people feel extremely uncomfortable. Even if the government emphasis this surveillance would not influence average people’s lives, no one can deny the line between public and private surveillance has become more and more blurring. For most of the people, installing monitors in the shopping mall is acceptable, but if you find a monitor in the fitting room, you must feel panic. I bet most of the people believe chat contact lists belong to the area of “fitting room” instead of the public mall. For a long-term, people will generate a sense of uncertainty and untrust towards the government, which decreases country’s cohesion. What’s more, thanks to government surveillance,  the gap between watcher and watched gradually widened. Richards details that such disparity creates a series of consequences such as ” discrimination, coercion, and the threat of selective enforcement”. (Richards 2013, p. 1945).  As the watcher accumulate more and more information by watching, they will definitely transfer this source into political discourse, which turns out a huge gap between the government and the watched.  

2) The United States is hacking China

It was also revealed through Snowden’s leak that NSA has hacked China mainland and Hongkong computers. When this news came out in CCTV( China Central Television), many Chinese shocked. Just like West said, Snowden’s statement deteriorates the relationship between China and US over hacking.

Richards explains this behavior in a more specific way.  “Most forms of surveillance seek some form of subtler influence or control over others” (Richards, 2013, p. 1952-1953). It reminds me the Cold War period, by spying on the other countries the government collected information and gained more power.  Today, Cold War ends, but the contest still exists. The goal of this spying behavior is to guarantee the government able to be one step ahead of any move made by other counties. However, this type of upper hand can lead to blackmail, discrimination and finally caused distrust between two countries.




8 thoughts on “Government surveillance

  1. I’m not sure that the “chat contacts list” belongs in the same category as the fitting room. When the legal concept of privacy was conceived, they were dealing with things like handwritten letters. The analogy used is that the name and address on the outside of the envelope are free for the government to surveil, but the contents on the inside must remain private (without a warrant, of course). So I think that really the chat contact list is the equivalent to what would be on the outside of an envelope, and it’s really the contents of my chat that I don’t think the government has a right to be reading.


  2. For your second point, it reminds me an old saying: the squeaking wheel gets the oil. America did that is to belie that the American government also spy China.
    It’s like a competition for spy agent technology, somewhat fair. At least, each side has equal chances.


  3. These readings remind me of the Swedish animated film, Metropia. It’s about a dystopian future where the main character works at an office that spies on citizens. At some point in the film, he finds himself spying on his own bedroom, and realizes that the surveillance is not limited to certain people, but that everyone is being surveilled by evil corporations in control of the government. I forget who, but someone made the point in class that corporations and government are already such allies and so networked that they are practically one in the same. I don’t feel comfortable with either group watching my life and I wonder where ‘the people’ fit into this triangle of power and what we can do about surveillance other than be aware of it or become martyrs like Snowden.


  4. I agree with you that “the line between public and private surveillance has become more and more blurring” and surveillance hurts relationships between government and citizens or counties. To me, chat contact list is closer to “fitting room” rather than public. When we link our WeChat or Weibo to other apps, it often asks us to agree to share our basic information includes contact list. It seems usual, but I’m always very uncomfortable to do so. I don’t know why they need such information.
    Uses of surveillance can be different. China has more public surveillance cameras than America, which makes most Chinese feel safe. Criminals are hard to hide, and clues and evidences are easier to quickly collect.


  5. On your first point, I think what I see the contradiction is between trust on government protecting the people, and distrust not knowing how it is doing it. What you say about this gap between what the NSA states and your privacy concerns are the main issue that I see the government should do better in communicating more clearly.
    Your second point reminds me what we talked about international communication, where strategies for communicating power collided when different countries discovered that even their government authorities are being surveilled.


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