Electronic Surveillance Research Paper Samples
Electronic surveillance started as soon as electronic communication came into use. It dates back to the days of the civil war and the 1920s when law enforcement was enforcing prohibition. Whether it was telegraph or telephones, the government always found a way to tap into conversational exchanges. During the civil war, the Union had employed a team of telegraph engineers for the purpose of intercepting telegraph messages exchanged between Confederate forces. Ironically, the telegraph engineers employed by the Union were from American Telegraph and Telephone Company also known as AT&T. After the war, telephones became popular and with prohibition in place, the government saw it fit to tap telephones of anyone who was suspected of bootlegging. With every new technology that the telecommunication companies introduced, government agencies were always there to intercept those communications.
Today, technology has enabled the government and private agencies to monitor much more than communication channels. We have Closed-circuit television cameras in traffic intersections, malls, offices, factories, schools, houses, subway stations, stores and even fairs. There are also whole arrays of tracking devices that can pinpoint the location of an individual at all times.
(Lyon, “Surveillance Studies: An Overview”)
Types of electronic surveillance
There are several forms of surveillance that are in use by government, private agencies and civilians. They fall into eleven basic types. These eleven types are discussed below.
Telephones are the most sought after mode for wiretapping since it also the most widely used communication device. In earlier years, the wiretapping would be conducted by a federal agent with others listening in on the line however; today there is no physical presence required. The Speech-to-text software that was originally intended for visually challenged users has been put to use to convert voice calls into text transcripts. These transcripts are then provided to federal agencies annually for a stipulated fee. Telephone companies have been instructed to make telephones with VoIP to make wiretap possible. They only require an activation to start the wiretap. The mobile phones are excellent beacons for tracking individuals even when the phones are not in use. They bounce off signals with the mobile company’s towers in the vicinity and provide an approximate location. Although there is some debate on the validity of using such methods without proper warrants, the Patriot Act has given federal and law enforcement agencies enough leash to conduct their surveillance activities without hindrance.
(Roland, "Mueller Orders Audit of 56 FBI Offices for Secret Subpoenas")
Personal computers have ceased to become personal anymore with more advanced hacking software being deployed by federal agencies today. The software can be installed remotely or manually. It can be bundled even with pornography on a certain website. Picking the website is easy considering the fact that all internet behaviour is reported to federal agencies. There are no secrets especially on the internet. Personal computers are targeted because they have data that has not been uploaded on the internet. This data could be a jihadist pamphlet or even a catalogue of weapons that might be a work in progress. It could also be word processing files that were either printed out or ready to print. There is no possibility to prevent these programs from intrusion since they were designed by companies that supply our antivirus, antimalware and other anti hacking software programs.
(McCullagh, "FBI turns to broad new wiretap method")
In the days of the prior to 9/11, intrusive cameras were reported for peeping tom activities however; post 9/11, it is the government that controls much of this intrusive behaviour. There are no hidden spots, no out-of-sight getaways or private space anymore. Closed circuit television cameras have cropped up everywhere; at the minimum of one per street corner. The television series, “Person of Interest” is actually a reality for U.S. citizens. Cameras are available in a variety of sizes these days; some are only the size of a button. We are always watched; our movements are always stalked. If these actions were conducted by an individual, the person would be charged with stalking and the victim can get a restraining order. However, there are no restraining orders available when federal agencies conduct the same activity if by chance you had been joking about assassinating the President or even liked a joke on Facebook that showed the U.S. in poor light.
(Klein, "China's All-Seeing Eye")
Social network data analysis
The freedom of speech was guaranteed to us by the U.S. Constitution and evidently revoked by U.S. federal agencies. The surveillance of the social network media is only a small part of this elaborate undertaking. Social media companies are required to hand over all information about customers, what they liked, what they followed, what views they expressed and even who their friends are. The volume of information that is procured is impossible to sift by human resources hence, federal agencies use high-end software to scour through the data for certain words, patterns and habits. These in turn provide the data of those whose activities seem to suggest terror links or even self beliefs in revolting against federal government policies on national security. It is mandatory for all social media websites to have options to allow real time scanning of their information by federal agencies.
(Singel, "AT&T Invents Programming Language for Mass Surveillance")
Federal agencies receive huge volumes of emails given to them by service providers. The government agencies use sophisticated software that cost taxpayers billions of dollars to go through the emails for any incriminating information. The finding of any evidence is then linked to other internet habits or individuals who might be of interest. Once probable cause has been established, this individual becomes the recipient of wiretaps, aerial surveillance and even undercover operations. Data mining is a crucial surveillance tool for federal agencies such as the FBI and the NSA.
(Flint, "Administrative Subpoenas for the FBI: A Grab for Unchecked Executive Power")
Drones are a cost effective way to monitor high value targets incorporated by the FBI. In recent admissions, the FBI has stated that drones were being used to monitor U.S. citizens also. Local police departments are deploying drones rapidly to aid their respective SWAT teams.
The possibility of acquiring satellite surveillance is now available to local law enforcement and federal agencies to monitor and track the movements of U.S. citizens. It is also used to take high resolution images from recognisance satellites and planes. The effective use of this capability is portrayed in the Hollywood movie, “Body of Lies”.
Radio Frequency Identification
Radio frequency identification is a relatively new concept of adding a miniature tracking chip to ID cards of employees belonging to defence contractors. These chips can collect a large amount of personal preference intelligence about an individual. Although they were introduced in the United Kingdom, they are picking up pace in establishing themselves on U.S. soil.
Global positioning system
Global positioning systems (GPS) have been in use with U.S. law enforcement agencies from the past decade. They are actively used by correctional facilities that release violent criminal on parole. This device helps parole officers track the individual’s movements. Some of them would lockdown if the individual attempts to leave the jurisdiction. GPS is also used on vehicles that police suspect to have criminal ties. Although this move have been challenged in court, for now the police do not require a warrant to attach a GPS device while stopping a vehicle for a traffic violation.
Covert listening devices (bugs)
Listening devices known as bugs have been in use by federal agencies for a very long time. The recent controversy that was sparked by Edward Snowden’s revelations that even foreign missions including that of allied nations were bugged by U.S. agencies in their war on terror. Edgar Hoover had tapes on several prominent personalities including Marilyn Monroe for her political views. Similarly, several antiwar activists, politicians, celebrities with ties to the middle-east are monitored routinely by federal agencies.
The Constitution of the United States of America provides safeguards and guarantees for its citizens against unnecessary searches, arrests and surveillance. However, prior to 9/11, the worst form of terrorism ever witnessed by the United States was the federal building bombing in Oklahoma. Although there were a few attacks on U.S. personnel and embassies, no one believed that an attack in the heart of America was even possible. Yet, commandeering civilian planes to bring down the World Trade Centre and crashing into the pentagon brought the battle of jihadist terrorism to U.S. soil. Clearly, the United States was looked up to by NATO allies until 9/11 and since then federal agencies have been working hard to ensure we retain that status. The only way to do it is to establish that 9/11 was a rare blemish on internal security. The surveillance of millions of U.S. citizens was a small price to pay. The operations were conducted in a highly confidential structure and yet, every few years whistleblowers appeared. These individuals decided to tell their story as and when a critical safeguard was breached by the NSA. Barring the red faced press conferences following whistleblower revelations, the NSA has done an impeccable task of keeping America safe from any major terrorist attacks.
American citizens can sleep peacefully knowing that they are safe from terrorist attacks and yet their lives have become lesser versions of “Truman Shows”. All of our activities are monitored and federal experts can probably predict our movements for the next day better than us. Our privacy does not exist anymore. It is a price that we have paid to ensure days like 9/11 never come to pass. The question on everybody’s mind is whether or not it should be continued. Should the federal government continue their indiscriminate surveillance of our lives? The answer is yes. Despite the considerations that fuel concerns about privacy, not all our lives are actively observed. The government surveillance, despite its extensive nature does not penetrate into the second level of surveillance if there is no probable cause.
We do not live in a nation that does not care about public privacy. The government did not want civilians to know about it initially because of all the doomsday theories that would crop up with such admissions. American citizens likewise do enjoy the security that has been brought on by the surveillance programs. Moreover, we haven’t stopped sending emails, share photos on Facebook, tweet our views liberally, buying new mobile phones, drive past CCTV cameras or to text message jokes about terrorism. Furthermore, we do not come home to news channels covering mass arrests of U.S. citizens on account of speculation. Hence, although the government monitors our movements and behaviour, they do not act irrationally against our mild blemishes. This is good news and it reiterates our safeguards against unreasonable prosecution.
(Minsky, Kurzweil and Mann, "The Society of Intelligent Veillance")
List of Works Consulted
Lyon, David. Surveillance Studies: An Overview. Cambridge: Polity Press. 2007. Print
Roland, Neil. Mueller Orders Audit of 56 FBI Offices for Secret Subpoenas. March 20, 2007. Web. April 7, 2015.
McCullagh, Declan. FBI turns to broad new wiretap method. January 30, 2007. Web. April 7, 2015.
Klein, Naomi. China's All-Seeing Eye. May 29, 2008. Web. April 7, 2015.
Singel, Ryan. AT&T Invents Programming Language for Mass Surveillance. October 29, 2007. Web. April 7, 2015.
Minsky M, Kurzweil R, Mann S. The Society of Intelligent Veillance. Ontario, Canada. 2013 Print.
Flint, Lara. Administrative Subpoenas for the FBI: A Grab for Unchecked Executive Power. September 24, 2003. Web. April 7, 2015.