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Big Data and Electronic Surveillance

Question:

Write about the Policy Report for National Security Agency.

In the recent years, a noticed growth has been seen in electronic surveillance. A number of processes have been made automated and a lot of information, particularly big data, is disseminated through the internet. When it comes to Big Data, it is a key contemporary surveillance issue and there is a need to protect such data, as at majority instances, the same relates to sensitive information and also due to the high dependence on such data (Ferguson, 2017).

The revelations about the National Security Agency back in 2013 by Edward Snowden, in addition to the complexities of the internet companies, coupled with the international controversies have provided an ideal segue to the contemporary problems of Big Data and surveillance. There has been a change in the attention from being over the C20th information technology and its networks, to the present Big Data. Through Big Data, some surveillance trends which are related to networks and information technology are intensified, which results in fresh yet fluid configurations (Lyon, 2015). This is done in three distinguished manners. The first one relates to the capacity of Big Data intensifies surveillance through expansion of analytical tools and interconnected datasets. This is in addition to the present dynamics of risk management, influence and control increase in the scope and speed by the use of new techniques, particularly when it comes to predictive analytics (Lyon, 2014).

Secondly, even though Big Data deems to be about size, there is perceptibility of qualitative changes. The key trends in this regard relate to the public-private synergies, user involvement and faith in technology and these are persisting. And lastly, the ethics underpinned in this process become a key mode of criticism. The viewpoints associated with privacy are breached when it comes to surveillance as it uses the personal information of the users, which not only is an ethical breach but also a breach of moral, which has been given a legal structure (Lyon, 2014).

Before an understanding is attained about the revelations of Snowden, certain key matters associated with Big Data surveillance have to be made clear. This would help in showing the manner in which the revelations of Snowden showed the dependence on the Big Data techniques, particularly since these have a huge impact over the very understanding of the present day surveillance. It cannot be denied that some of the revelations of Snowden involved targeting; however, the key focus of these remained on the Big Data techniques (Boersma and Fonio, 2017). But what is Big Data? Big Data is the capacity of searching, aggregating and cross-referencing large data sets (Boyd and Crawford, 2012). There are a variety of practices, softwares, ideas, techniques and metaphors which are bundled together in two deceivingly simple sounding words.

Big Data Intensifies Surveillance Trends

The attempt here is to show that surveillance trends are intensified as a result of Big Data, particularly the ones associated with networks and information technology. Two key questions have to be answered here. The first one relates to the extent of Snowden disclosures which show that Big Data practices are very important to surveillance. This is answered from the queries regarding the practices associated with Big Data with regards to public concern and surveillance in the matter of activities of NSA which predate Snowden. Snowden just brought out something which already existed (Andrejevic and Gates, 2014). Secondly, since Big Data is gaining a lot of interest, how does it force chances in practices, policies and politics of surveillance?

The revelations of Snowden were not a one off incident but instead were a regular and constant activity. He began by revealing that the NSA was using order from FISC, i.e., Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court in order to get the metadata from Verizon, which was a telecommunications giant, of the millions of phone calls of Americans (Greenwald, 2013). This was followed by the revelation that NSA was accessing the servers of key sites in a direct manner. These sites included Facebook, Google, Skype, Yahoo, Microsoft, YouTube and Apple (Gellman and Poitras, 2013). The revelations of surveillance practices by Snowden revealed that the governments of different nations were undertaking large scale monitoring of populations and also showed the manner in which this was being done.  In words of Bruce Schneier (2013), metadata is surveillance. Even though Big Data is deemed as a breach of privacy by some people, the Snowden leaks cannot be deemed as any more ethical. The publicizing of such confidential information and Bulk Data was to distort the very purpose of undertaking Big Data surveillance. 

Even though there have been people who oppose Big Data surveillance, the significance of the same cannot be denied. The problem here is not of the government collecting such data and using surveillance as a measure to track people. The issue here is of the revelations made through such releases. The issue here is of effective management of such disclosures in order to take timely actions to deal with such releases and to protect the information which is collected from such surveillances from different sources and for different reasons. The reason for undertaking Big Data surveillance is not something which has to be justified to the general public as the same is not undertaken as a means of breach of privacy but as a means of intelligence tactics indulged in by the government to protect the citizen (Yan, 2017).

The Ethics of Big Data Surveillance

Big Data surveillance still raises a lot of concerns from the individuals. There are still a number of claims made against the government for permitting the data of individuals to be collected and analysed for the so called purpose of protecting the citizens. The breach of privacy is deemed as a key reason for the hue cry surrounding Big Data surveillance. Snowden deemed himself as a whistleblower, as he had raised the misdeeds of the government and the breach of privacy by the government. But his revelations highlighted a key issue linked with Big Data surveillance. In the name of whistle blowing, individuals have used the sensitive information and tactics used by government, which are used to protect the citizens, as a means of being global hero. This makes it all the more important for the governments to draw out such policies where the information collected, the manner of its collection and the other aspects associated with Big Data surveillance are properly protected (Cropf and Bagwell, 2016).

Big Data surveillance is conducted to protect the citizens of the nation, by conducting surveillance where information is collected in discrete manner and the same is used to draw up proper strategies to keep the citizens safe from such incidents which harm them. The need for this is further increased in the present age where the instances of crime are increasing with the nation. The terrorist groups like the ISIS have moved on to radicalising of the youth against their very nation, which has resulted in recent attacks in USA, France, UK and other parts of the world (Williams, 2017). In the sense of protection of the people of the nation and even up to a certain extent towards social justice, there is a need for Big Data surveillance to be continued in a manner, where the same is not revealed by “whistleblowers” like Edward Snowden.

Such incidents also increase the chances of the revealed information to be used by wrong outfits, thus putting the human rights of the people of a nation at threat. Agreed that the citizens have a right to be their privacy but this right is any day bigger than the right to live. And if this requires the use of Big Data surveillance, there is a need for the governments to indulge in it and also protect the information collected from such surveillances. At the same time, there is a need to pay heed to the genuine concerns raised by private sector groups that the use of Big Data surveillance needs to be undertaken only for the purposes of upholding human rights, social justice and safety of the citizens. There is a need to thus ensure that the Big Data surveillance is not used as a quest for control, which can easily take place in the present time, particularly due to the sensitive international relations across the globe.

The previous conducted discussion highlighted how Big Data surveillance has gained a lot of importance in the recent time period. However, the public revelation of the modes and information collected from Big Data surveillance has led to different issues being presented. Included in these were the breach of privacy, attaining equilibrium between security and quest for contract, and the need to protect the citizens. On the basis of the different issues discussed here, some recommendations have been drawn which can help in dealing with the issues raised above.

  1. There is a need to clearly demarcate to the citizens between what would be deemed as a rightful whistle blowing and a dissemination of confidential governmental information. This does not mean that whistle blowing has to be ended or that the same has to be punished. Instead, there is a need to bring out a forum where such issues can be raised in a confidential manner. And these forums can be linked to the courts, where they can decide in a fair manner if the particular information needs to be protected in terms of being sensitive towards protection of the citizens, or whether the same highlights the atrocities of the government and the misuse of power by office holders.
  2. There is a need to drawn out such policy which could regulate and protect information collected from Big Data surveillance, in addition to drawing out the manner in which Big Data surveillance can be conducted. This would help in drawing out a line being crucial data collection and the breach of privacy.

 

  • There is also a need to invite views of the different private sector groups and even from the citizens with regards to their concerns surrounding privacy. Following this, a policy has to be chalked out which gives legal backing to Big Data surveillance, while at the same time, protecting the privacy of the citizens. This would help in stating what an acceptable surveillance is and what is not.
  1. As Big Data surveillance largely remains an automated process, there is a need to bring human element into it. This would help in ensuring that the boundaries of privacy are not crossed and at the same time the threat is not disguised as a need of privacy. So, both human and automation elements have to be combined in a manner to create algorithms and datasets to make the best use of this technique.
  2. A key step which needs to be taken in this regard relates to the misuse of the collected information. There is a need to ensure that when a citizen’s privacy is breached, it is done for justified reasons. Thus, there is a need to make certain that the collected information is safe.
  3. Another point which stems from the previous point is the information collected should be used for protection purposes, instead of using it as a means of waging war against an enemy or a not so friendly nation.

References

Andrejevic, M., and Gates, K. (2014) Big Data surveillance: Introduction. Surveillance & Society, 12(2), pp. 185–196.

Boersma, K., and Fonio, C. (2017) Big Data, Surveillance and Crisis Management. Oxon: Routledge.

Boyd, D., and Crawford, K. (2012) Critical questions for Big Data: Provocations for a cultural, technological and scholarly phenomenon. Information, Communication and Society, 15(5), pp. 662–679.

Cropf, R.A., and Bagwell, T.C. (2017) Ethical Issues and Citizen Rights in the Era of Digital Government Surveillance. Hershey, PA: IGI Global.

Ferguson, A.G. (2017) The Rise of Big Data Policing: Surveillance, Race, and the Future of Law Enforcement. New York: New York University.

Gellman, B., and Poitras, L. (2013) US, British intelligence mining data from nine US internet companies in broad secret program. [Online] The Washington Post. Available from: www.washingtonpost.com/investigations/usintelligence-mining-data-from-nine-us-internet-companies-in-broad-secret-program/2013/06/06/3a0c0da8-cebf- 11e2-8845-d970ccb04497_story.html [Accessed on 10/11/17]

Greenwald G (2013) NSA collecting phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily. [Online] The Guardian. Available from: www.theguardian.com/world/2013/jun/06/ nsa-phone-records-verizon-court-order/ [Accessed on 10/11/17]

Lyon, D. (2014) Surveillance, Snowden, and Big Data: Capacities, consequences, critique. Big Data & Society, 1(2), pp. 1-13.

Lyon, D. (2015) Surveillance After Snowden. West Sussex: John Wiley & Sons.

Schneier, B. (2013) Senator Feinstein Admits the NSA Taps the Internet Backbone. [Online] Schneier. Available from: https://www.schneier.com/blog/archives/2013/09/ [Accessed on 10/11/17]

Williams, J. (2017) White American men are a bigger domestic terrorist threat than Muslim foreigners. [Online] Vox. Available from: https://www.vox.com/world/2017/10/2/16396612/las-vegas-mass-shooting-terrorism-islam [Accessed on 10/11/17]

Ya, W.Q. (2017) Introduction to Intelligent Surveillance: Surveillance Data Capture, Transmission, and Analytics. 2nd ed. New York: Springer.

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