Government and Privacy

NSA surveillance program still raises privacy concerns years after  exposure, member of privacy watchdog says - The Washington Post
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What is the right balance between government surveillance and private data?

In today's digital age, the issue of privacy is at the forefront of public debate. Governments across the globe have increased their surveillance techniques to ensure national security and combat illegal activities. [1] Nonetheless, these efforts also raise questions about individual privacy infringement. [2] This article analyzes private data against governmental monitoring with an aim to understand both benefits and risks.

The Need for Government Surveillance

Ensuring the safety and security of citizens is a top priority for governments across the world. Security agencies are entrusted with monitoring communication channels, social media platforms, and other virtual arenas in efforts to curb criminal activities, terrorism and cyber-attacks. [3] Advancements in technology have enabled security agencies to gather quite a bit of data within seconds. This approach allows fast responses to potential threats.

Thus far, it can be understood that government surveillance has indeed aided in stopping many potential dangers. The prevention of countless terrorist attacks is credited to the National Security Agency (NSA) in America, while innovative surveillance approaches have allowed law enforcement agents worldwide to disband criminal networks and detain many offenders. [4] However, there are significant worries about how government surveillance affects people's privacy.

The Threat to Privacy

The agency's programs have caused outrage as it gave them access to and analysis of personal data from millions of individuals worldwide without their consent, infringing on their privacy. [5] The consequences of these invasions of privacy include limiting freedom of expression and creativity, as well as preventing possible dissent. One of the most prominent examples of this is the exposure of the NSA's PRISM program by whistleblower Edward Snowden in 2013.[6] The program that was revealed allowed the agency to access and analyze the personal data of millions of people around the world without their knowledge or consent.

What was PRISM?

PRISM was a secret surveillance program initiated by NSA to collect and analyze internet communications data from various technology companies. The primary aim of this program was to monitor foreign individual’s communications to gather intelligence and prevent potential threats to national security. However, the controversy surrounding PRISM was not predominantly due to the global surveillance aspect, but rather the domestic surveillance that the program facilitated. The NSA, in attempt to monitor for foreign threats within American borders, NSA justified targeting foreign persons' communications, justified widespread domestic surveillance, intruding on the privacy of American citizens. [6] In some ways, we can see that PRISM and the subsequent whistleblowing by Edward Snowden significantly increased privacy issues awareness in the United States afterwards.

What Americans think about NSA surveillance, national security and privacy  | Pew Research Center
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What is the possible right balance?

To strike the right balance between private data and government surveillance, several measures should be taken:

  1. Transparency: Governments must be more transparent about their surveillance activities, providing people with clear information about the data being collected and the reasons for its collection. This can help build public trust. However, this still may take a long time due to recent government activities.
  2. Legal Framework: A strong legal framework should be established to regulate government surveillance and protect citizens' privacy. This includes the need for judicial oversight and the requirement to obtain warrants for accessing personal data.
  3. Limited Data: Governments should only collect and retain the data necessary to achieve their objectives. This minimizes the potential for abuse and the risk of data breaches.
  4. Public Awareness: Finally, people should be educated about the importance of protecting their personal data and the potential risks associated with sharing sensitive information online. This will allow people to make informed decisions about their digital activity.


[1] Brayne, S. (2017). Big Data Surveillance: The Case of Policing. American Sociological Review, 82(5), 977-1008.

[2] Solove, D. J. (2007). 'I've Got Nothing to Hide' and Other Misunderstandings of Privacy. San Diego Law Review, 44, 745-772.

[3] Diffie, W., & Landau, S. (2007). Privacy on the Line: The Politics of Wiretapping and Encryption. MIT Press.

[4] Bamford, J. (2008). The Shadow Factory: The Ultra-Secret NSA from 9/11 to the Eavesdropping on America. Doubleday.

[5] Zetter, K. (2014). Countdown to Zero Day: Stuxnet and the Launch of the World's First Digital Weapon. Crown Publishing Group.

[6] Greenwald, G. (2014). No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA, and the U.S. Surveillance State. Metropolitan Books.

[7] Gellman, B., & Poitras, L. (2013, June 6). U.S., British intelligence mining data from nine U.S. Internet companies in broad secret program. The Washington Post. Retrieved from