The preference for increased surveillance on the masses has recently become a political issue. This paper assesses a number of benefits and drawbacks in relation to the development of mass surveillance techniques and practices and assesses the impact of these new practices upon democratic systems, governance and law enforcement operations. This paper also reviews the practice through the lens of globalisation and assesses that increasingly criminal behaviour is being conducted in the virtual world, as opposed to the real world, and is occurring in a cross border globalised fashion. This paper concludes that the latter of these arguments provides sufficient justification for the development of mass surveillance operations and techniques, regardless of the impact upon democratic systems.
Increased government surveillance of citizen’s communications has been justified on the grounds of preventing terrorist activity as well as other forms of criminal behaviour. Whilst the creation of a surveillance society is indicative of Orwell’s (1948) publication, 1984, the reality of a vast network of surveillance systems, oppressive state behaviours and disregard for international judicial norms does not relate directly to the authoritarian state system which Orwell portrays. Bilton (2013) argues that the development of the surveillance society has occurred via several routes. These include, but are not limited to, the vast increase in technological advances which allows government to conduct these operations in an almost passive form and the expansion of surveillance systems into normalised civil society via wearable camera equipment which simultaneously accesses IT equipment which, of course, is monitored by the aforementioned passive governmental surveillance systems.
Bilton (2013) highlights that the anomalies relating to the recent shooting of Trayvon Martin would have been easier to clarify had either he, or the perpetrator, had been in possession of
the relevant surveillance IT equipment. However, outcomes such as this are occurring whilst the US government is spending vast quantities on systems such as Prism, developing extensive closed circuit television systems and telecommunication monitoring and eaves dropping systems, in order to conduct routine surveillance of its populace, the question of whether such systems seemingly undermine privacy rights (Gotlieb 1996). Regan (2014) associates these developments to the increasing budgets of the National Security Agency and cites a number of statutory regulations and legislation in order to support these practices. In effect, therefore, the practice of mass surveillance has been recognised by the political establishment which has subsequently provided the necessary finance in order that the practice can be conducted.
As such, there are clear budgetary and rights issues relating to the practice of mass surveillance. The subsequent development of the security industrial complex has since been muted as being an alarming issue which the domestic US citizenry should be aware of. This development has occurred whilst members of the US Senate have called for a national debate relating to this specific but are critical of the Obama administration which has sought to retain classified caveats to a number of intrinsic issues and, therefore, is thwarting the possibility of such an event (Rodhe 2013). In essence, therefore not only is the practice of mass surveillance being kept secret but is also integral to undermining the democratic process since the US electorate are being asked to vote on issues, as well as make judgements on government policy without being in possession of the full facts of this matter.
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Many of the above policy and procedural developments have occurred in the post September
11 era. Bloss (2007) argues that the current mass surveillance policies have surpassed previous state responses to threats which, it is argued, includes the internment of US based Japanese people during World War Two and anti-Communist practices experienced in the 1950s and 1960s. Bloss’ (2007) perspective is supported by Abrams (2005) who argues that the mass surveillance practice is being paralleled by increasing abilities of police forces to carry out searches without warrants. This, Abrams (2005) argues has helped the relevant law enforcement agencies to shift their operational focus form one of investigating criminal acts to one which is intelligence led.
The previous section has highlighted how the US public sector policy has resulted in the development of a covert mass surveillance system which sees intelligence gathering as being crucial to law enforcement investigations but is, concurrently, undermining the democratic process by virtue of the protective caveats which are in place to protect the secrecy of these systems, as well as the policies which enforce them. The justifications for these developments are, however, not limited to a response to the events of September 11th 2001. Posner (2003) argues that the US state system is increasingly responding to events which take place overseas and which are increasingly becoming unpredictable. Collins (2006) suggests that the outcome of this is the development of a preventable law enforcement system which has littl3e choice but to utilise intelligence gathering techniques in order to remain proactive in attempting to thwart a number of threats, terrorist or otherwise.
recent decades. Similarly, Collins (2006) argues that the era of globalisation has allowed for a globalised criminal network which can only be monitored via electronic counter measures, such as mass surveillance. Additionally, it is for this reason that the political elites recognise the threats that now exist. Further to this, the political elites are to be applauded for recognising that these threats, as well as their context, now exist and have responded accordingly (Collins 2006). However it is not just the political establishment which has recognised these threats. The US judicial system has also recognised the threats which exist
as well as the context, and have been a party to the expansion of law enforcement powers in areas such as search criteria and the erosion of privacy and personal rights in order that law enforcement agencies can be more proactive in their approaches to law enforcement (Bloss, 1996). Grabosky and Smith, (1998) Further this perspective by rekindling the globalisation aspect. They suggest the that criminal activity is now a cross border phenomenon which has led to law enforcement agencies, the political elites and judiciary to respond accordingly in order that criminal acts are thwarted and that criminals are apprehended. This outcome, therefore, adds weight to the issue of mass surveillance and removes this debate from a solely terrorist relating phenomenon. It is for this reason, Taylor (2006) argues, that has led to crime scenes existing in the virtual world as opposed to the real world and is virtue to the increasingly adept ability of criminal syndicates to use technological advances to communicate as well as hide their criminal intent. Taylor (2006) also adds that these syndicates are involved a number of transnational illegal
acts which include, but are not limited to, terrorism, drug trafficking, human trafficking, financial fraud. This perspective is also supported by Grabosky and Smith (1998).
The extent, to which mass surveillance has been developed, therefore has allowed a network of eavesdropping capabilities in order that law enforcement agencies can operate proactively when recognising that a threat to the USA may exist. Clearly, there are a number of other threats which exist as opposed to the traditional terrorist related ones. The sophistication of modern criminal racquets requires a similar robust response.
In conclusion, therefore, this paper has assessed a number of potential reasons in relation to the negative aspects for the development of mass surveillance systems. It is arguable that the development of a mass surveillance system is the equivalent of the fictional world portrayed by George Orwell in his works, 1984. However, this paper has identified that this new policy development has led to an erosion of democratic principles and has created conditions whereby the voting populace, and (some) members of the political establishment, are unable to discuss the systems which are in place in the USA. This is because of the levels of secrecy attached to these surveillance systems, or of the extent to which they encroach in to the lives of the citizenry. This perspective also applies when the financing of these systems are taken into consideration. Similarly it can be evidenced that the judiciary are also supportive of such developments and have helped create conditions whereby law enforcement agencies can extend their powers, by virtue of judicial rulings. These issues aside, this paper has identified that the globalising nature of criminal and terrorist syndicates are a direct threat to the USA. Similarly, the increased usage of technology provides justification for passive mass surveillance and eavesdropping. It is, therefore, essential that law enforcement agencies develop similar techniques since the virtual world, and not the real world, is now the typical crime scene.
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