Domestic surveillance mechanisms


Domestic surveillance mechanisms intending to protect Americans have existed for over a hundred years. However, the National Security Agency intelligence-gathering programs exposed by Snowden indicated the illegal foundation of the surveillance. The current needs for counterterrorism have spurred domestic spying debates following the revelations about NSA domestic surveillance programs authorized by the president after the September 11 terrorist attacks. It is well known that the NSA collects phone logs from the Internet from millions of Americans and use it in keeping the United States of America safe. But, is it worth concluding that domestic spying has gone too far? After the exposure of NSA’s surveillance operations, the majority of Americans do not approve the government’s surveillance of ordinary Americans. It is however evident that the 21st-century war is unique therefore requiring new and sophisticated methods of gathering information. Technology has advanced, and so has the government’s ability to obtain actionable intelligence. The move towards curbing locally-initiated terror attacks necessarily requires, by accident or intentionally, the monitoring of American citizens’ communication with persons of interest identified by NSA. While opponents argue that privacy is under threats from surveillance apparatus in the name of offering national security, domestic surveillance mechanisms intend to protect Americans, therefore, proving to be a legal and effective method of preventing terrorist attacks.

Relevance of domestic surveillance

The government’s primary role is protecting its citizens. Surveillance should therefore not be used against its people, but rather to protect the people. Collection of the surveillance data might not be an issue for many the potential abuse emerges from the analysis of the collected information. The NSA details personal profiles of American citizens to protect them from terrorist, but if they do it in the protection of political interests, this would mean trouble for the American people. Despite the criticism from civil rights groups, President Obama’s government strongly defended NSA’s surveillance program. Based on the speech in the New York Times, surveillance is legal and an effective method of preventing terrorist attacks. Obama acknowledged that not even the United States surveillance program could be said to be immune to abuse. This was about the 1960s when the government spied on critics of the Vietnam War. However, in response to such revelations, the Congress passed additional laws in the 1970s that ensured that the intelligence systems were not misused (New York Times). President Obama’s speech is a testimony of the dedication of the American intelligence community in making enormous strides by realizing this mission. Furthermore, they have been able to prevent multiple attacks, therefore, saving innocent lives in the United States and globally. The former president’s speech indicates that intelligence agencies need secrecy to effectively function as it would prevent their work from being a subject of public debate (New York Times). The lack of transparency continues to fuel the inevitable bias within the intelligence community. The NSA has real enemies and threats, and therefore uses its intelligence and surveillance programs in confronting them.

There is a general presumption that the NSA operates against the constitution. However, Joel indicates that both the NSA analysts and civil liberties protection officers ensure that caution is taken before the collection and handling of any data relating to U.S. citizens. Even though no intelligence agency is perfect, including the NSA, the President Obama appointed independent commission appointed identified no abuses by NSA (New York Times). This distrust by the public is the only logical explanation why Americans are against domestic surveillance by the government, and the NSA cannot be held responsible for creating this circumstance. Although the society praises the need for transparency, it lacks the knowledge of how intelligence works and its contribution to the national welfare. Domestic surveillance has helped in saving lives citizens’ life outweighs everything else. Through its surveillance, NSA has apprehended terrorists and prevented attacks against American citizens. The lives saved cannot be outweighed by the arguments of the opponents of domestic surveillance given that the government’s priority is the lives and security of its citizens. Furthermore, NSA surveillance activities are not harmful. Innocent Americans without criminal records do not need to be concerned about surveillance. On the other hand, mistakes that occurred in the past were corrected. People need to look at the benefits that come with improved security and safety.

Concept of sousveillance

The current societal setting is a case where the few watch the many while the many watches the few, surveillance and sousveillance respectively (Brin). Sousveillance has shifted the one-sided surveillance society towards the times when the public can monitor what intelligence agencies are doing. Despite Obama’s call for privacy as a right of every American, he acknowledges that in itself, it is inadequate to maintain the security of America counterproductively. Brin establishes that issue raised against the NSA are about information asymmetry. On the one hand, NSA can access all the information, but on the other hand, the surveyed cannot. This is an indication that the American people are fully transparent, while NSA is not. Therefore, Brin looks towards a reciprocal of the transparency to eliminate information asymmetries. Reciprocal transparency referred to as sousveillance by Brin is based on the premise that domestic surveillance is good for the nation, but the power of surveillance must be equally distributed. According to Brin, the distribution of surveillance power is concentrated within power structures particularly the government. The government only needs to restore this balance by not hiding information or banning its use based on the right to privacy, but rather opting for a transparent system of surveillance.

Protection of Civil Rights by Oversight of Intelligence Gathering

Joel, a civil liberties protection officer, works with the government to oversee the protection of liberties and privacy rights. According to Joel, intelligence oversight ensures that the NSA conducts its mandate in a manner that balances between the acquiring the essential information and protecting citizens interests. The oversight allows the intelligence agencies to account for any cases of the lawfulness of their activities. Joel finds it to be the nature of human to be suspicious and mistrust the nature of secrecy involved in surveillance. Americans assume that by hiding their activities, the intelligence agencies are doing something wrong. However, civil liberties protection officers are entrusted with ensuring that potential incidents of non-compliance are reported, and that information which has been improperly collected is removed from the agencies systems. Joel reviews the audit records of the agencies and submits the findings to Congress. He acknowledges that mistakes happen, but they are always taken very seriously. This necessitates for the public approval of domestic surveillance.

Critics of domestic surveillance

According to ACLU, privacy is under threats from surveillance apparatus in the name of offering national security. NSA intrudes upon the conversations of unsuspecting citizens and catalog suspicious activities using vague standards. ACLU adds that by just collecting sensitive information, the government invades privacy. Furthermore, the use of the data is another point of abuse. It suspects the possibility of the information being shared widely, and that the government may violate the rules of access and use secretly without the public ever knowing. ACLU bases its argument on the many examples in history when trust has been breached. It, therefore, concludes that the liberty of American citizens cannot depend on those in power but rather a law to constrain those in power. Lieu and Anderson also argue that even in instances where NSA operates within the letter of the law, as claimed by President Obama, they would still violate the values of a democratic society.

According to Lieu and Anderson, the effectiveness of the domestic surveillance program should not be of greater importance than whether the NSA operates under the constitution. The NSA has repeatedly violated the Fourth Amendment by obtaining communication data of ordinary Americans without any probable cause. The NSA is only allowed to seize private information through a warrant from a judge. Lieu and Anderson, therefore, propose that the president should remind the NSA that its first allegiance is to the Constitution. It is not surprising that the ACLU and Lieu and Anderson criticize any privacy criterion used by the NSA as useless. This is because they believe that the reasonable expectations of privacy disappeared as soon as the intelligence agencies invaded the public privacy on a routine basis. Accordingly, the constitution limits the government as to when to act against its citizens (Lieu and Anderson). It should therefore not punish individuals based on thoughts. Moreover, this may amount to targeting citizens by dissent, religion, or ethnicity for political purposes.


Both the security and privacy of American citizens are important. It is therefore important that both are taken care by the government without neglect of any. According to the opponents of domestic surveillance, when the government exercises power over its actions, it takes away the freedom of a nation. On the other hand, President Obama, Joel, and Brin call on citizens to understand that America’s safety can only be realized when something is sacrificed. The government only needs to meet its citizens in the middle for them to give consent for more intelligence strategies. Technologies greatly enhance people’s lives by making it more comfortable. The same technologies have seen the development of surveillance applications with the aim of increasing the security of Americans. However, surveillance has led to information asymmetries and hence power asymmetries.

Furthermore, these misconceptions are compounded by the fact that surveillance has been less transparent. Arguing by the right to privacy cannot protect the autonomy individuals. However, sousveillance can help remedy information asymmetries. Similarly, civil liberties protection officers are entrusted with ensuring that potential incidents of non-compliance are reported, and that information which has been improperly collected is removed from the agencies systems. With the right strategies put in place, the public will realize the importance and effectiveness of domestic in preventing terrorist attacks and criminal activities.

Works Cited

ACLU. Privacy and Surveillance. 2017. Web. 8 November 2017.Brin, David. Surveillance Should Be Embraced to Create a Transparent Society. 22 July 2013. Web. 8 November 2017.

Joel, Alexander W. Strong Oversight of Intelligence Gathering Protects Civil Rights. 13 August 2013. Web. 8 November 2017.

Lieu, Ted and Joel Anderson. The National Security Agency Violates Civil Rights. 16 January 2014. Web. 8 November 2017.New York Times. Obama’s Speech on N.S.A. Phone Surveillance. 17 January 2014. Web. 8 November 2017.