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The growing problem of government surveillance Essay

There’s a global war going on right now. I’m not talking about Syria, I’m talking about the war on the Internet. As the Internet has gotten bigger over the years, it has become a bigger interest for governments all over the world. Presidents and kings have a Twitter account now, and all the plans for budget spending are put on government websites. But it also has become a bigger problem for people in power all over the world. The giant spread of the internet means that governments can’t hide anything from the people. People can have private conversation easily now, without having to meet in real life. However, it is beneficial for governments to know what people are discussing.

This is what caused massive Internet surveillance. For a long time, the internet was one of the only places the governments didn’t have any surveillance. There are cameras on the streets, they can see what kind of packages you send, but they couldn’t see what you were doing on the Internet. That had to change, or so thought the people in power. Back in 1973, US president Richard Nixon had to resign after it became public that his administration bugged and wiretapped multiple political enemies. Today, the Obama administration is spying on the entire world; and they’re prosecuting the person who told everyone about it. The US government alone has 20 (known) surveillance programs.

They are not only domestic, but collect global data, beyond their jurisdiction. Perhaps the most well-known one of the bunch is PRISM. PRISM got massive global coverage when NSA employee Edward Snowden leaked dozens of files mainly to Glenn Greenwald, a journalist of The Guardian. The Guardian and Greenwald have been catalysts in carefully publishing information about the scale of the PRISM system. Snowden had to flee the USA and is now in Russia after receiving a temporary asylum grant. A proper manhunt was on before he arrived there, and even Greenwald’s husband was detained for 8 hours at a London airport under an anti-terrorism law.

The British government has raided and looked through files in one of The Guardian’s offices. It is safe to say that the western world is really trying to limit freedom of speech and control the only thing they don’t control, the Internet. In a series of whistle-blower related incidents over the past years, this is one of the few ones in which the leaker has managed to not get prosecuted by their government. Whistle-blowers are not something governments want, as we have seen in the Snowden affair. The United States has made sure to threaten and bully any country Snowden appealed for asylum to, under the name of freedom. All the American news channels called Snowden a traitor, further bringing the public opinion in the favour of the government.

Unfortunately for governments all over the world, this didn’t work out as intended. Polls showed a great divide between people, with polls asking if people felt he was a traitor or not getting very close results. Organisations and other governments have reacted in shock and anger, with organisations like Amnesty International saying; ‘’ What he has disclosed is patently in the public interest and as a whistleblower his actions were justified.

He has exposed unlawful sweeping surveillance programmes that unquestionably interfere with an individual’s right to privacy.’’ While a lot of governments said they were shocked, it later turned out that a great number of them are either sharing their surveillance information with the United States and the other way around, or that they have a sizeable surveillance program themselves. After all this happened, a lot of people asked this question: ‘’Why should I be against government surveillance of the internet if I have nothing to hide?’’.

That’s a valid question, but truth be told, you’re thinking about it the wrong way. If you do nothing illegal you still don’t want cameras in your house that track everything you do. It is not about having nothing to hide, it’s about having the right of privacy. The Internet doesn’t belong to anyone, which makes the confusion bigger. It’s often unclear which government has to act when. You can hide your location easily with programs you can download online, and at that point no-one knows what country can act and what country can not. The United States of America are known to act and step in even if the incident is not concerning American citizens, websites or locations.

The laws on what the government can and cannot do on the Internet also differs for each country. The spread of Islamaphobia and the abuse of the word ‘’Terrorism’’ Since 9/11 and the following war the US government has said the words terrorism and terrorist countless of times. In the West, when someone says the word terrorist, most of us think of Muslim people. Do we associate the word terrorist with the Sandy Hook shooter? I did not see even one article call him a terrorist. Does what he did not include spreading terror? I think it does. People all over the World, even in the Netherlands, are strongly opposed to the building of Mosques, but are totally fine with the building of Churches.

The American Revolution was beautiful but The Arab Spring is all just a bunch of terrorists fighting with primitive weapons is what the media tells us. We have been told that the war was justified because of 9/11, but tell me, if 12 American planes would bomb Egypt would we expect them to invade the USA, destroy their cities and rape their mothers and wives? Government surveillance was necessary according to the US government to protect the country from terrorists, so something like 9/11 would never happen again.

The use of that argument makes it very hard for someone to oppose it because people will think you are for something like 9/11 happening again. All in all, 9/11 was a good moment for the governments to seize the opportunity they had been waiting for and now they can finally monitor the only thing that they couldn’t before; the Internet. I think some time to think about how we feel that our government is supporting a country where exposing a mass crime is a crime.


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