Ever private phone conversation. It is even illegal

Ever since the invention of the telephone and telegraph, the concept of wiretapping has been a concern. As early as the 1860’s, statutes were in place in some states prohibiting listening in on telegraph communication. As the turn of the century neared, along came the telephone, and with it, came wiretapping. From the onset, it has been illegal in the United States for an unauthorized person to listen in on a private phone conversation. It is even illegal to record your own phone conversation if the person on the other end does not know it is being recorded (Harris, 2001).According to Harris, historically, the law has not been as strict for the government. He states, “in 1928, the United States Supreme Court approved the practice of wiretapping for the police and other government officials, though some states have banned it.” By the 1970’s, this practice was met with some provisions. Now law enforcement is required to obtain a court order to listen in on private conversations, and the information obtained can be used in court only in certain circumstances. In addition, there are limitations with the court order. Authorities are only permitted to listen in on a call for a certain length of time. Regardless, the practice of government wiretapping is highly controversial (2001). With the advancements in technology and explosive growth in internet communication, many new concerns have arisen. Internet communication, which is comprised of bits and bytes, can be “viewed” using something called packet sniffers, such as the FBI’s Carnivore system. Internet communication, as it was not “verbal” conversation, had not been protected by the same laws that protect traditional phone use. However, by 1986, the U.S. government enacted the Electronic Communications Privacy Act wiretapping regulation that protects e-mail, pagers and cell phones (Harris, 2001).Video surveillance goes back as early as 1965 with closed circuit television monitoring. In 1969, police cameras were installed in the New York City Municipal Building near City Hall. The practice soon spread to other cities, with closed circuit television (CCTV) systems. In these early years of video surveillance, analog technology, using taped video cassette recordings, allowed recorded data to be stored and kept as evidence (Wilkerson, 2005). The seventies became an age where video surveillance was used for everything from law enforcement and traffic control to divorce proceedings. England put up cameras in the Underground train stations as well as to monitor highway traffic flow. By the 1980’s, US businesses and banks adopted the practice, as the value of surveillance quickly took off. In the 1990’s, advancements grew with the creation of digital multiplexing, permitting multiple cameras to do recordings at the same time, as well as features like time-lapse and motion-only recording. These advancements revolutionized the surveillance industry (Wilkerson, 2005).As the computer revolution continued, digital video surveillance became faster, clearer and more efficient. Months of surveillance could be compressed on hard drives, and images could be manipulated to improve clarity. From 1997 on, police departments throughout the US installed video surveillance cameras in public buildings, housing projects and began using mobile surveillance vans at political rallies and other large gatherings under the auspices of the Technical Assistance Response Unit (TARU). Even the invention of the “nanny cam” helped push the industry to develop smaller higher resolution cameras that could be put just about anywhere. But it was the tragic events of September 11, 2001, which redefined video surveillance for the future (Wilkerson, 2005).Wilkerson shared, before 9/11, people saw video surveillance as an issue that might never affect them. After the attacks by terrorists on that Tuesday morning, video surveillance was now an issue of immediate and lasting importance. Enhancements to video surveillance programs included facial recognition programs which were used to match recorded faces of terrorists or criminals. As early as May 2002, the US Parks Service installed face recognition software at the video surveillance cameras at the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. The Sydney International Airport installed SmartGate, an automated border crossing system used for all airline crew members scanning a face and a passport photo confirming the match in less than ten seconds. By December 2003, Royal Palm Middle School in Phoenix, Arizona, installed a face recognition video surveillance as a pilot program for tracking missing children and registered sex offenders (2005). The internet has permitted video surveillance to be world wide – enabling it to be set up anywhere as well as watched from anywhere, around the globe. Digital streaming video may be viewed on a laptop, tablet, or smart phone thanks to continued technological advancements and handheld internet access. So how does the National Security Agency and the Department of Homeland Security use phone taps and video surveillance? To answer this question, first we must understand the Patriot Act. The Patriot Act (the full name is the USA Patriot Act, or “Uniting and Strengthening America Act by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001”) was enacted by the U.S. Congress on October 26, 2001, at the request of President George Bush in response to the terrorist acts of September 11. The Patriot Act permits the Justice Department many new liberties with both domestic and international surveillance of American citizens and others within its jurisdiction. According to its sponsors, the Act was needed to address a situation that had not existed before – the presence of terrorists within national borders – and the need to apprehend and prosecute them before they acted. The Act is met with opposition from various groups, including the Electronic Frontier Foundation and the American Civil Liberties Union, who say that the Act has undone previous checks on civil liberty abuses of the past and unnecessarily endangers privacy and discourages free speech (Rouse, 2010).Rouse explains, among the Act’s provisions, the government is able to legally tap telephone lines in certain cases, as well as intercept Internet messages through its “Carnivore” program. Basically, the government has the ability to intercept all messages that are “relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.” The Act allows the guidelines to apply to all surveillance cases, not just those of suspected terrorists. In addition to the surveillance provisions, the Act includes sections related to money-laundering and immigration and also contains a section that condemns discrimination against Muslims and Arab-Americans (2010).Controversy has arisen as to the lengths the US government has gone under the auspices of “homeland security.” One such program which has been brought to light is the NSA’s domestic spying program known as “the President’s Surveillance Program”, or “The Program.” Implemented by George W. Bush shortly after the attacks on September 11, 2001, Bush authorized the National Security Agency (NSA) to conduct a range of surveillance activities inside the United States. Aspects of the program claimed to be monitoring communication of hundreds of people inside the US with possible connections to Al Qaeda. However, other aspects of “the Program” were aimed at millions of innocent Americans never suspected of a crime. Details of every American’s call history is being shared, as well as the installation of sophisticated communications surveillance equipment giving the NSA access to communication in real time (1.7 billion emails daily). All of this was done without a warrant in violation of federal law and the Constitution (Rouse, 2010). In May 2013, Edward Snowden made international headlines after he disclosed multiple classified documents to the media which he acquired working for the firm Booz Allen Hamilton. Snowden was charged with espionage by the US Department of Justice and is now in Russia, who granted him a one-year asylum. Snowden’s disclosure uncovered the existence of numerous global surveillance programs, many run by the NSA with the cooperation of telecommunication companies amongst others. In his words, Snowden’s “sole motive” for leaking the documents was, “to inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them.” These disclosures have caused huge reactions over the ever controversial issues of mass surveillance, government secrecy and the fine line between national security and privacy. At this time, nothing has changed with the Patriot Act and the surveillance continues today (Gellman, Blake, & Miller, 2013). So lives have been saved. It is believed information gathered from these programs provided the US government with critical leads to prevent over 50 potential terrorist events in more than 20 countries around the world and has helped stop and thwarted terrorist attacks both here and in Europe – saving real lives” (Bergen, Sterman, Schneider & Cahall, 2014).Considerations have been given to new programs for homeland security. According to an article written in the Washington Post in February 2014, The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was seeking a system to track license plates. The article stated the DHS wanted a database from all the license plates that are already read through local police departments, bridge crossings, and other various license plate readers combined in to one easy to read collected database. They believed it could help detect and catch illegal activity, as well as catch fugitive illegal immigrants. They felt the database would enhance agents and officer’s ability to locate suspects who could pose threat to public safety and would reduce the time required to conduct surveillance. In the article, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) said it has no objection to law enforcement officials checking license plates to see whether they’re associated with a stolen car or a felon evading arrest, but the government’s access to volumes of data on law abiding citizens raise concern about potential abuse. After privacy advocates raised concern about the initiative, the DHS eventually canceled their pursuit of a national license-plate tracking system (Nakashima & Hicks, 2014). The Washington Post published an article whereby the NSA director is calling for stronger strategies to deter cyber attacks. In the article, he cites incidents which have disrupted the web sites of US banks as well as destroyed data in a Saudi oil company’s computer network. The concern is a large enough cyber attack could shut down power in the Northeast or close the New York Stock Exchange, with a potential impact costing trillions of dollars and thousands of lives. There is also concern for an attack on computer systems which control radar or communications (Nakashima, 2014). So what does the future hold for video surveillance? Take out your cell phone. Chances are, if you have a cell phone, you have one which is not only a phone, but a device which can instantly send snapshots and streaming video to family and friends with just a few clicks. And yes, these “smartphones” can just as easily be used for video surveillance. Just over a year ago, the annual Boston Marathon was tainted by the act of two individuals and their backpacks, which contained bombs that exploded near the race’s finish line, killing three individuals and injuring 264 others. By now, most people have seen the video of “the Boston bombers” toting their backpacks through the crowd, one behind the other. The subject setting down his backpack in a large crowd and walking away moments before the bag exploded was captured on video. According to a “60 Minutes” report, FBI agents examined nearly 13,000 videos and over 120,000 photographs before finding the one video clip which would lead them to the bombing suspects two days after the bombings (Stone, 2013). Here is a major “pro” for the argument “for” surveillance. Rather than mounting cameras, law enforcement agencies may begin using smartphones as integrated devices, combining video surveillance with public phones in one package for 24/7 public watch dogging. Police officers and federal agents may eventually be issued phones with streaming video so that they can instantly send pictures of suspects they are pursuing back to a database for matching against a face recognition program. When a new “Amber” alerts is issued, video clips could be sent to all law officers quickly and efficiently. Digital technology and streaming video now permits comprehensive video surveillance with can be stored indefinitely. Not only can we reach across the street, but around the world, and advances are being made more and more everyday (Wilkerson, 2008). So how do we strike a balance between security and freedom? It is certainly a topic which has been negotiated through the give and take of politics and “what is legal” but may simply be turned over to the forces of technological innovation. Police record the license plate of every passing car. US government security agencies have the capability of capturing everyone’s telephone and internet activity. Is the consequence of making the world safer worth these efforts? And at what cost? The balance of power between the individual and the system of law and surveillance continues to get smaller and smaller with developments in technology. Let’s just hope that norms and laws keep civil society in check without demanding mindless conformity.


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