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Cyber Surveillance and Privacy of Internet Users


Cyber surveillance is becoming increasingly important for Internet users. In this paper, the topic will be discussed from the perspectives of everyday surveillance, its justifications, privacy-enhancing technologies, and the need for balancing different and often conflicting interests. It will be shown that cyber surveillance is justified by cyberattacks, but the need to balance protection from cyber threats and protection of human rights is still acute.

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With its growth and development, the security of cyberspace became an important topic. Because of the threat of cybercrime, cyberterrorism, and cyberespionage, the importance of preventative measures was advocated for, and cyber surveillance was introduced (Hu, 2017a; Liaropoulos, 2016). However, significant concerns related to human rights and privacy have been raised, and the future of cyber surveillance has been compared to an Orwellian dystopia (Hu, 2017b; Liaropoulos, 2016). The topic requires very careful considerations of different and often conflicting points and interests, which shows that their balancing can be carried out if sufficient attention is paid to the values of privacy and security.

Main Objectives

Today, an ordinary user of the Internet is subjected to cyber surveillance. Social media and large companies like Apple and Google collect personal information for commercial and national security purposes; cell phones can store information about the location of users; search engines can contain information about users’ behaviors and consuming patterns (Liaropoulos, 2016). There are methods of protecting data as well; most websites employ at least some protections, including those that limit collected information, mask and hide it, and provide users with the opportunity to manage it (Curzon, Almehmadi, & El-Khatib, 2019). Still, cyber surveillance remains a major concern, which is predominantly justified by the threat of cybercrime.

With increased reliance on cyberspace, society became vulnerable to cyberattacks. They include diverse cybercrimes (for example, stealing confidential information), cyberterrorism (serious attacks that disrupt cyberinfrastructure), and cyberespionage (politically motivated intelligence attacks and operations) (Liaropoulos, 2016). As can be seen from the examples, cyberattacks can target both individuals and systems, which makes them a matter of national security. Over the past few years, banking systems were attacked, and nuclear programs were targeted (Kanetake, 2018; Liaropoulos, 2016). Therefore, cyberattacks can cause significant harm and may present a legitimate threat to the safety of a nation and the world, which is an argument that can be used to justify surveillance.

On the other hand, the people of any given country can have a reason for worrying about their privacy. For instance, numerous examples of people being targeted for their views or believes, especially in non-democratic countries, suggest that surveillance can be used to violate human rights (Liaropoulos, 2016). Moreover, Kanetake (2018) cites Snowden’s decision to expose the surveillance performed by democratic governments, which made people question their ability to make ethical decisions on surveillance. As a result, both security and privacy require attention when working on cyber-surveillance policies. A form of trade-off appears to be expected, and it can be exemplified by investigating the topic of privacy-enhancing technologies (PETs).

PETs can protect an individual’s data, enhancing one’s privacy. PETs can improve the privacy of data, images, behavior, and communication, and they are subject to international, national, and local regulations (Curzon et al., 2019). Curzon et al. (2019) highlight the fact that the right to privacy in cyberspace is acknowledged by many international organizations, including the UN, which, however, offers recommendations rather than requirements. Furthermore, as new technologies are developed, new controls have to be introduced to ensure their safe distribution and use (Kanetake, 2018). As a result, the regulations of PETs require the cooperation of specialists and policymakers across borders, as well as the balancing of the right to privacy and the threat of cybercrime, in the uncertain environment of the changing, developing cyberspace. Consequently, the task of regulating PETs, as well as other aspects of cybersecurity, is a complicated one.

However, it should be noted that the values of privacy and security do not always oppose each other. As highlighted by Hu (2017b), a total, uncontrollable surveillance is bound to become harmful. Using the example of Snowden, it is possible to argue that such an approach has negative effects, including the demoralization and loss of trust in governments, which can lead to pushback and complicate legitimate, necessary cybersecurity operations (Kanetake, 2018; Liaropoulos, 2016). While it may be difficult to balance the two values, they are interconnected and both related to security.

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Consequently, the question of whether it is possible to effectively manage the different interests, which are involved in the cyber surveillance dilemma, may be misleading. With the present state of events, it is impossible to avoid attempting to manage them. Cybercrimes are an actual, legitimate threat that needs to be handled (Liaropoulos, 2016), and the possibility of the state abusing the tool of cyber surveillance is also a threat that can also do immense harm (Hu, 2017b). Currently, the ongoing debate about the human rights involved in the issue, as well as the existence of whistleblowers, implies that the solution which would satisfy all the needs of every social constituent has not been found yet (Kanetake, 2018). However, it is being searched for, and as the issues in surveillance are being pointed out, the likelihood of them being resolved increases.


To summarize, the problem of cyber surveillance consists of the difficulty of balancing security and privacy. On the one hand, the issues of national and international security can be used to justify cyber surveillance, but on the other hand, several scandals show that this tool can and has been abused by governments. While the balancing of the different interests involved in this process appears difficult, it is being done in response to the real-life need for such a balance, as well as the development of new technologies.


Curzon, J., Almehmadi, A., & El-Khatib, K. (2019). A survey of privacy enhancing technologies for smart cities. Pervasive and Mobile Computing, 55, 76-95. Web.

Hu, M. (2017a). From the National Surveillance State to the Cybersurveillance State. Annual Review of Law and Social Science, 13(1), 161-180. Web.

Hu, M. (2017b). Orwell’s 1984 and a Fourth Amendment cybersurveillance nonintrusion test. Washington Law Review, 92, 1819-1904.

Kanetake, M. (2018). The EU’s export control of cyber surveillance technology: Human rights approaches. Business and Human Rights Journal, 4(1), 155-162. Web.

Liaropoulos, A. (2016). Reconceptualising cyber security. International Journal of Cyber Warfare and Terrorism, 6(2), 32-40. Web.

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