What if the shootings in Paris could have been stopped? What if countless sex offenders could be stopped every day? What if drug trafficking could be cut down by a significant percentage without any innocent bystanders dying in the streets? While of course one can never know exactly how much past events could have been changed by a different protocol, there is no reason not to experiment with change in a time when technology makes it extremely possible. The argument regarding the ethics of government surveillance is a debate that could affect serious change in the future, for better or worse.
The long standing debate on whether or not the government should be able to monitor our online activity has not yet come close to reaching an end. Everyone falls onto one side of the argument or the other, and everyone has legitimate reasons to believe their opinions on this matter are significant. This is an important topic as it affects the level of safety and privacy that one receives. If one is granted too much privacy, then one’s safety will be at risk. On the other hand if one is too well-protected, then lives as citizens will be boring. However, the old saying “safety first” suggests that one must put safety before anything else, including our privacy.
In the eyes of the government, the overall safety of the community is their top priority. Therefore, one must grant the government the power to access our internet history, messages, and social media activity. If they do, then their chances of stopping potential threats, such as terrorism, will be maximized. Men involved in acts of terrorism usually take advantage of the online world to communicate with one another about their plans of mass destruction. For example, the French government found out that the terrorists involved in the recent attacks in Paris used an encrypted group on Twitter to discuss their future plans, which turned out to be the cruel, heartless massacre of 140 people. Imagine if the government found this out before the attacks. How many lives could they have saved? All of them. Everyone who is active online leaves a trail. The government will be able to trace this trail, hunt down those who pose a threat to a society, and extinguish the threat, but only if they are given the power to do so.
Apart from life threatening deeds, which put many lives in danger, there are other crimes which threaten the way our society functions, for example, pedophilia. The victims of this crime, children, are the most vulnerable group of people in most communities and an integral part of any society’s future. Therefore, they must receive all the protection they can. Since pedophiles use the online world as a medium of communication, the government can observe their plans there and stop any potential crimes from happening, which will in turn protect the children. Crimes that can ruin children’s lives and futures can be snuffed out by the diligent monitoring of one’s online activity. One must not let children suffer just because they need privacy to satisfy their own selfish needs.
There are also other crimes which are done online, such as the trading of illegal drugs and money. These must be stopped as they disturb the wellbeing of a community. One might argue that only those who are interested in the consumption of drugs are affected by this. However, they do not consider that these drugs can be sold to innocent, uneducated young people in our society. Furthermore, gangs and violence do happen as a result of illegal drugs. The use of drugs and violence lead to the physical damage of people. Without all this damage our society will be a better, more comfortable place to live in. This can be achieved by letting the government monitor one’s online activity as they will be able to look out for any illegitimate deals.
One very strong argument in support of online government surveillance could be called the “nothing-to-hide argument.” In theory, government surveillance would have no noticeable effects on anyone who is not involved in illegal activity. Assumedly, the government would not waste their valuable time going through countless emails or photos of non-suspects. It simply would not make sense for them to go through heaps and heaps of information and uselessness if it they had no real reason to do so. And if private matters were happened upon, there would be no real reason for the government to dwell on such matters.
Another argument would be that the monitoring of online activity could turn out to be very fruitful in other ways. If the government was able to easily track our searches, the needs of the citizens could more easily be met. For example, considering what is extremely relevant right now, if the government was able to monitor society’s overall interest in certain health-care websites they might be able to piece together a better idea of what most Americans are genuinely interested in health-care wise, rather than simply leaving this up to votes that are not heavily attended.
Possibly the most immediate argument against online government surveillance is of course a person’s right to privacy. Doubtlessly, it is a breach of someone’s privacy to read their intimate emails or hack their intimate search histories or have access to the spending records. Yet in response to this, one must understand the insignificance of the government’s possible access to these kinds of things. Participating in odd online activity would have absolutely no bearing on governmental work. At most, the surveilling individuals would become aware that a total stranger is spending money on less popular things or participating in less common online activity. If not illegal, there is simply no reason for the government to spend any time investigating different, completely legal online preferences.
To conclude, the overall question is still a matter of whether individuals prefer exceptional privacy or exceptional security. In today’s day and age it is impossible to have perfect levels of both. If the government is unable to monitor online activity, tech savvy criminals will be able to discuss complex plans openly online. There is no real way to stop this without allowing the government somewhat more power. On the other hand, if we do give them that power, the people must accept that the government will happen upon some things that one might not want them to see, from time to time. And it seems that in this instance, the ability to thwart more criminals, the fact that innocent people will not notice this surveillance, and the potential for this power to be beneficial to society overall would be enough to suggest that giving the government this trade off would be worth it.