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In the modern world, surveillance or the monitoring of activities, behaviour or other changing information mainly of people and often in a manner that is surreptitious is a common phenomenon. This is commonly done from a distance using electronic equipment, for instance CCTV cameras or by electronically transmitted information interception such as computer and internet usage. The issue of surveillance has raised a lot of controversy in recent years especially with its implication of privacy. The main concern is that the increased government surveillance on the public will result in a mass surveillance society where there will be non-existent or extremely limited personal and/or political freedoms. This excerpt will try to delve into the legitimacy of this public and surveillance and monitoring.
Computer tracking and Surveillance camera
Surveillance and monitoring in the workplace has been commonplace in the modern world for years. Monitoring computer use of the employees as well as video surveillance has been sited as one of the measures that employers can ensure the productivity of their employees. This monitoring is also used to ensure that the employees are not using company property to further unwarranted and at times criminal activities. Most countries indicate that any personal information that is saved in a work computer can be freely accessed by employers or authorities. This includes personal e-mails and other documents. Information surveillance over the internet has also contributed greatly to the fight against terrorism as it is the most commonly used medium of communication for most terrorist organizations. Since the information circulating over the internet is numerous, several software such as ECHELON, Naruslnsight and Carnivore are used to intercept and analyze data and extract that information which is useful to intelligence agencies and law enforcement.
Most European cities currently employ public video surveillance as their primary tool to monitor the populations’ movement, maintain social control, prevent/investigate criminal activities, monitor and recognize threats as well to prevent terrorism. In particular, the United Kingdom is notorious in its reliance on CCTV surveillance as a terrorism prevention and crime fighting tool. Data indicates there is approximately a camera for every 14 people and a person is likely to be filmed 300 times every day in a UK city. According to several researches, this system is said to be discouraging and as such act to deter criminal activities, for instance, traffic rule violations. Research indicates reduced crime rates once public video surveillance are implemented in a location, such as a 57 percent decrease in Crime in Northampton and a 68 percent decrease in crime in Glasgow, Scotland. In addition, anecdotal information indicates that when criminals are faced with video taped evidence, a higher percentage of them tend to plead guilty.
Interestingly, most of the population in Britain is aware that they are under surveillance with a majority seemingly unbothered by that fact. Most of the citizens actually indicate that they feel safer under such a form of surveillance. The call for video surveillance was particularly bolstered by two events. One involved the apprehension of two youths who were recorded in a Bootle Shopping center as they kidnapped two-year old Bulger James away; the victim was later found murdered. The second event was a terrorist bombing. Broadcasted Images of two men recorded in the Harrods and Victoria Station before the bomb explosion resulted in the prompt arrest of the perpetrators. In addition, use of the surveillance camera in Britain has been used to ensure order in public gathering. For instance, during the 1996 Euro Soccer championships, surveillance camera were used to identify up to 50 British hooligans who had in the past disrupted matches ensuring that they would not repeat their acts while deterring others from hooliganism. This went a long way in mending the tarred international image of soccer in Britain.
While most supporters have substantial evidence to support such monitoring others simply claim that there is nothing the public can do about being monitored and as such, we should just get used to having no privacy. Scot McNealy, CEO Sun Microsystems, was quoted as saying “You have zero privacy anyway, get over it”. The main argument among supporters is that if one is not doing anything wrong, then they have no reason to be afraid. However, many fear that such monitoring will soon be used to force the public to do as the government tells them to. This, they claim, is simply a denial of the people’s freedom.
Surveillance and monitoring programs and law have led to many people fearing that the society is evolving into a state of mass surveillance where there will be severely limited social, personal, political freedoms. In such a state, dissenting groups and individuals will be strategically weeded out of the society like purges. In addition to such obvious functions such as identifying and capturing individuals who participate in undesirable acts, public surveillance is also seem to create a feeling of being watched round the clock so that the public can become self-policing. The state is as such able to control the population without resorting to physical force, actions which are usually expensive as well a problematic.
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Although surveillance is to a large extent hailed for its contribution to ensuring the safety and security of the public, concerns have been raised about the potential privacy violation as well as progressive infringement on the people’s freedoms and rights. This is a controversy that will no doubt continue especially as technology advances and the ability for surveillance increases. However, it is clear that surveillance has contributed immensely to criminal and terrorism activities prevention.