southtownstar
ALOOF 
Weather Updates

Parker: Surveillance raises real concerns

David Parker is an associate professor Graham School Management St. Xavier University Chicago.

David Parker is an associate professor in the Graham School of Management at St. Xavier University in Chicago.

storyidforme: 57151488
tmspicid: 21015990
fileheaderid: 9831634

Updated: December 11, 2013 6:09AM



The revelations by former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden regarding the existence of a massive surveillance grid over the United States population has raised legitimate concerns about violations of citizens’ constitutional rights in the name of combating terrorism.

The surveillance techniques include integrated wiretapping, Internet and social media monitoring, and the collection and storage of so-called metadata, and they present a threat to our civil liberties as guaranteed by the First Amendment and the right to due process under the Fourth Amendment.

From the Cold War to the War on Terrorism, the U.S. government has employed data-mining technology to collect, disseminate and store personal information about individuals, including U.S. citizens. The FBI, Drug Enforcement Administration and the U.S. Border Patrol all utilize unmanned aerial vehicles or systems, better known as drones, in domestic airspace.

These activities are based, in large part, on the recognized and accepted need for our government to exercise power domestically and globally to identify and preempt threats to individual safety and national security.

The aggregation, distribution and retention of digital information is a powerful, and perhaps necessary, means of combating terrorism and ensuring the security of the nation. The government has access to enormous amounts of information on individuals as a result of increasingly sophisticated information-collection practices and technologies.

But digital technology and the information revolution have evolved at such a tremendous pace that they’ve outpaced and left obsolete many of the laws upon which personal privacy is based.

Staunch national security advocates argue that data-mining technology is neutral and can be contained by legal regulation. Those concerned with protecting civil liberties counter that such technology is a monster that, once released, cannot be controlled. Both sides recognize that we live in an age in which (computer) data-mining has become pervasive.

Professor Arthur R. Miller, now at New York University, in his March 1967 testimony before a U.S. Senate subcommittee, warned of a surveillance system “that will turn society into a transparent world in which our home, our finances, our associations, our mental and physical condition are laid bare to the most casual observer.” Nearly five decades later, due to the availability of personal data, the fictional and prophetic fears of surveillance, control and loss of anonymity have become alarmingly real.

The government’s collection and use of digitized personal information presents a two-fold problem. First, the effect upon the target and members of society in having their personal, intimate information captured — with seemingly little control or knowledge of the process or content — as well as viewed and circulated by countless unknown individuals. Secondly, those within the system can become desensitized to individual privacy rights by accepting and regarding individuals as mere data sets.

Unfortunately, a lack of understanding and sensitivity on both sides fosters a false dichotomy — that a choice must be made between national security and individual privacy. The potentials and dangers of data-mining technology lie somewhere between these extremes.

Thirty-eight years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Fourth Amendment “protects people not places.” Despite that endorsement of privacy rights, the court also has held that, while the Fourth Amendment protects against “unreasonable” searches and seizures, determining whether a search is reasonable depends in part on whether there was a reasonable expectation of privacy.

Advances in information technology, coupled with the broad authority that current law provides the government, means that information gathering is more threatening and intrusive than ever. Privacy concerns can be mitigated effectively by appropriate policies, strengthening existing law and developing and deploying technologies to increase security while protecting privacy.

The U.S. is indeed threatened, and it is imperative that the nation maintain its vigilance and resolve to strongly respond to both domestic and foreign threats. But what government intrusions are acceptable in the name of national security? Few believe that sacrificing civil liberties and justifying actions that levy a heavy moral cost and loss of individual freedoms are acceptable.

As long as there is discussion and debate, there remains hope that a balance will be established that allows the government the tools to provide security and protect the right of privacy (“the right to be left alone”) — a right that Supreme Court Justice Louis Brandeis pronounced the “most comprehensive of rights and the right most valued by civilized men.”

David Parker is an associate professor in the Graham School of Management at St. Xavier University in Chicago.



© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit www.suntimesreprints.com. To order a reprint of this article, click here.