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Enemies of the State: Privacy and Surveillance Essay

After the September 11, 2001 attacks, the film Enemy of the State is perhaps much more relevant today, when balancing between individual freedoms and privacy and the need for securing the country’s borders, than it was when it was released. The NSA, National Security Agency, put in place secret programs for electronic surveillance shortly after September 11. The ownership as well as the control of these programs is in the hands of the executive branch or multi-national corporations, with little supervision from the legislative or judicial branch.

In 1998, the time the film was released, some events like the government pushing for the passage of a legislation allowing it to subject any US citizen to secret surveillance for virtually any reason were yet to come true in real life. The Patriot Act was passed only 2 months following the September 11 attacks. The law eradicated various restrictions preventing spying of citizens by the government, giving security agents power to wiretap, conduct electronic eavesdropping, and access people’s private data (Epic).

Following these developments in the name of security, the use of the surveillance technologies is cause for public debate on privacy, with some people supporting the use of the technologies and others viewing it as invasion of the privacy of individuals. The use of surveillance technologies raises several questions. For instance, how far should citizens in a democracy allow such surveillance to go? Should the government collect large amounts of unnecessary personal information in the name of trying to identify criminals?

What if the laws put in place to govern use of the surveillance technologies are abused? Can citizens trust those controlling the surveillance to keep from abusing the power given to them? Watching Enemy of the State, many people would answer “no. ” The film portrays how far misuse of surveillance technology can go and cautions about the dangers that could come with extensive government surveillance. Carla Dean, the main actor’s loving wife, voices these concerns when she reacts to the notion that the surveillance will be used to only spy on suspected criminals and terrorists.

She asks who will draw the line between tapping suspected criminals and suspending the good citizens’ civil liberties. She asks who will “monitor the monitors of the monitors? ” (“Enemy”). The Patriot Act allows for monitoring of library and bookstore records and while such laws targeted terrorists, lately, the lines appear to have blurred a bit. The Justice Department is said to have been conducting seminars to look at ways of extending the wiretapping provisions to cover more than just terrorism, within only 6 months of the Patriot Act’s passage (Alien).

According to Duke, passing on surveillance information beyond those responsible, tapping and spying of innocent citizens by government without warrant is privacy invasion. The reason for investing in surveillance is meant to protect citizens’ liberties, but not to take those liberties away as citizens are entitled to privacy regardless of what they are doing, and that it is even unjust for the government to spy on suspected terrorists without warrants. According to him, government invasion of individuals’ privacy erases any other rights Americans may have.

He argues that it is futile to try to protect or guard America without rights and principle (Duke). The film draws attention to the downsides of intensive surveillance. Although, to some point, surveillance may reinforce national security, it is also likely to be misused and erode personal privacy. The film also discounts assumptions that pictures do not lie. Although surveillance is effective in gathering information because the images are taken to represent reality, Enemy of the State emphasizes that they can also be quite misleading.

For instance, the FBI’s photos of Robert while at Pintero’s place imply non-existent Robert’s mafia connections. Likewise, when Carla Dean is shown pictures of her husband, Robert Dean, and Rachel Banks together, she imagines that he is having an affair, which is not true (“Enemy”). This misrepresentation of reality shows how the use of surveillance could be abused by the monitors in case they have hidden malicious interests or they are being manipulated by more powerful people in government.

Surveillance could also cause the monitors to spy on innocent citizens and unnecessarily invade their privacy because the pictures are also prone to misrepresentation. This could even cause damage to a person’s image and cause fear because there is no guarantee of personal privacy. Experts say that use of secret surveillance prompt ethical and legal privacy concerns when used in people’s homes. The worrying thing is that the use of surveillance cameras by individuals has increased considerably, following the 9/11 attacks.

Hi-tech hidden surveillance cameras, once only restricted to law enforcement and military personnel is now available to civilians. Disguised surveillance cameras are now being hidden in things like teddy bears or plants or almost anywhere and even parents who have worries about their nannies can access such technology. Tiny motion-detector-triggered cameras can even inform people when, for example, their cars are being keyed. Even things like sunglasses have fiber optic video cameras and micro-cameras built into watches are in market today at relatively low prices.

Many spy stores cater to businesses concerned about theft or industrial espionage. A Malibu restaurant, for instance, recently solved a problem of money disappearing from a safe by installing a hidden surveillance camera. All these can be bought at specialized shops like Spy Tech, the Privacy Connection, etc. (surveillance-source). It is generally accepted that it is unreasonable, to a great extent, to expect privacy in public happenings.

For instance, while one can go in front of another person’s house and probably take a picture, the issue of planting surveillance cameras in front of the house a whole day could take time to be addressed in a specific way (surveillance-source). There seems to be no escape from surveillance societies as Enemy of the State (“Enemy”), finally implies. Although Brill finally escapes, he has to follow strict rules in order to avoid the surveillance cameras which are almost everywhere.

His workplace is “unplugged from the world” (“Enemy”) and to escape from the surveillance, he is forced to abandon normal life and has to live an isolated life (“Enemy”). This kind of lifestyle seems impossible for most people, because there is no way one can lead such an isolated life. It is also ironical that the monitors or those in charge of the surveillance tools themselves fall victim to the same technology. The men, after following every move Robert makes all along, they have end up being monitored with the same cameras.

In addition, Brill says “the more the technology you use, the easier it is for them to keep tabs on you” (“Enemy”). The movie makes it clear that the more people keep fawning over the latest technology, the more they keep on enhancing the surveillance society’s power. On the whole, this film clearly demonstrates that in spite of its various flaws, surveillance society is here to stay (“Enemy”). Works Cited Alien. Citizen surveillance: Government abuse or fair play? 20 Sep. 2003. Web. 4 Jun. 2010. <http://boards. straightdope. com/sdmb/archive/index. php/t-212591. html>

Duke. Who is the Next Victim of Government Spying? 13 Mar. 2008. Web. 4 Jun. 2010. <http://socyberty. com/government/who-is-the-next-victim-of-government-spying/> Enemy of the State. Dir. Tony Scott. Walt Disney Studios Distribution, 1998. Film. EPIC. Information Center USA Patriot Act. 2009. Web. 4 Jun. 2010. <http://epic. org/privacy/terrorism/usapatriot/default. html> Hidden Camera Surveillance: Why the New Popularity and Availability of Gadgets May be Cause for Concern. 2010. Web. 4 Jun. 2010. <http://www. surveillance-source. com/Hidden_Camera_Surveillance. htm>


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