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Surveillance in America


It has been revealed by different newspapers’, including New York Times and Guardian, that US government is involved in mass surveillance of Americans and overseas communications. History of this kind of surveillance is as old as wartimes of world wars and then later when projects like Black Chamber and SHAMROCK were initiated. Surveillance was expanded on a larger scale after 9/11 to combat terrorism. Various recent programs and techniques being currently used by American government has been brought in light through media reports in 2013. These media reports revealed that National Security Agency runs many spying programs which are capable of intercepting internet and telephone communications of billions of users all over the world.

Various methods have been employed for spying and surveillance of communications which includes tapping of telephones, infiltration of smart phones, usage of surveillance cameras and drones and data mining of internet giants. It has been revealed in newspapers’ reports that NSA has some way of accessing users’ data maintained by Internet giants like Apple, Facebook, Google, Microsoft and twitter.

As regards the legal foundations of such kind of surveillance numbers of steps were taken by American government and different laws were passed. In 1978, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act was passed to regulate the government activities of monitoring of suspects. A secret court was established to handle the matter pertaining to such matters. In Oct 2001, Patriot Act was passed by Congress which allowed sharing of information between FBI and FISA court. In 2006, Patriot Act was renewed by Senate and House with few new protections. In addition to this, FISA court authorized warrantless surveillance of data in 2006. Bush Administration passed the Protect American Act which allowed government to get blanket warrants without naming specific people to target internationals although national communications could have been swept during the process. In July 2008, FISA Amendments Act was passed by Congress which not only approached without warrant wiretapping but also provided immunity to participating telecom companies. This Act was extended in 2012 again.

Basically all these surveillance programs have been designed to combat terrorism as these programs accelerated after 9/11. But data gathered was also used for assessing other countries foreign policies and economic situation. A report published by Guardian revealed that intercepted messages had important material about a nuclear project, an ally’s double dealing and American computer networks’ intruders. Data collected is routed to concerned authorities and agencies to carry out further investigations.

Apart from intrusion in private life of its citizens, cost benefit analysis of US government’s surveillance programs is another debate. It has been argued that mission of identifying new threats is not successful. Different studies have revealed that there are no hard evidences to prove the advantages these programs offer.

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