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Electronic Surveillance as Unethical Practice


The government of the USA pays much attention to national security and tries to ensure it in different ways. Electronic surveillance is one of them. A special information-sharing network was created to let the law enforcement agencies monitor people’s phone calls and e-mails and gather this information so that the public is even not aware of such procedures. Thus, there is no proof of any criminal activity. The representatives of the government claim that such actions are maintained in order to track terrorist activity and be prepared to react if something happens. However, some individuals started to be afraid that officials may abuse their power and make use of the information they can receive from this network (York, 2014).

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Government surveillance programs are currently used not only on the territory of the USA but in many other countries. They tend to be transparent and non-existing for those people who are not aware of all peculiarities. Still, many people do not forget that the information they upload on the Internet can be easily approached by other people. Trying to hide their online lives, the representatives of the general public who are familiar with technologies, refer to special networks that provide them with the opportunity to maintain usual activities. Surveillance programs can also be applied to already convinced individuals. If they are able to be an advantageous human resource in our organization, they can receive such kind of punishment that limits their interaction with others on a territorial basis. In this way, one is constantly monitored until the sentence ends. Still, it is difficult to say whether such an approach can be considered better from the ethical point of view, like all people who interact with the offender also become monitored (Nellis, 2014). Thus, people argue that electronic surveillance is unethical because it affects those rights that are highly valued in the democratic society, such as free speech, even though it is expected to be beneficial to them.

People’s Reaction to Government Surveillance Programs

A lot of people who live in the USA have heard about the electronic surveillance programs that are controlled by the government. They are aware of the fact that the information they reveal when communicating with other individuals with the help of phones or e-mails and other tools that make online interactions possible can be monitored. Considering this situation, Rainie and Madden (2015) conducted research to find out how the representatives of the general public treat governmental actions of this kind. The professionals questioned Americans and got to know that more than 30% of the participants are aware of the surveillance programs as an action aimed at the protection of the country from the terrorists. At the same time, more than 55% stated that they had heard something about surveillance, but they are not familiar with all its peculiarities. Even though more man than women and more college graduates than those who finished the only school knows more about surveillance, all population regardless of educational and gender peculiarities tend to have similar results (Rainie & Madden, 2015).

Approximately the same number of people are highly concerned about monitoring programs and do not care about them at all, which proves that the population is not yet sure how to respond to the surveillance and if some actions are really needed to be done. However, the majority of people are afraid that they activity on search engines can be revealed to the governmental agencies. In addition to that, many people worry about the safety of information sent with the help of e-mail messages and phones. Others also pay attention to social media and mobile applications (Rainie & Madden, 2015). Still, it cannot be denied that a particular group of people did not care much about such things.

The representatives of the general public believe that each of them should have the right to privacy. They consider that the government should not control who they are communicating with and what they are saying, at least while the actions are maintained at home, as the fourth amendment originally ensured that it could not be unreasonably searched. Still, some people also claim that they have nothing to hide from the officials. They are even glad that surveillance is maintained because it provides an opportunity to prevent criminal activity and protect the population from terrorism. Others state that monitoring can be acceptable when it is used to track activities of those people who are suspected of committing some crime but should not be maintained as a general practice (Rainie & Madden, 2015). It is also critical to consider the fact that individuals who are aware of the surveillance programs tend to think that they are not aligned with the public interests, exist only for some governmental purposes, and are not ethical. They claim that they are not confident in the surveillance purposes as they can hardly perceive their influence.

The population of the USA still hopes that its judicial system can improve the situation and ensure that those monitoring programs implemented by the government do not violate their privacy and freedom of speech. They believe that it is possible to balance security and privacy so that no issues regarding this problem occur again (Omand, 2013). In general, Americans tend to have a neutral opinion regarding the existence of electronic surveillance controlled by the government. However, it is critical to mention that they think so only when supposing that those people who are monitored are not the USA citizens but representatives of the other countries or individuals suspected of committing a crime, especially terrorism. As it turned out, the majority of people who are well aware of surveillance and its peculiarities believe that such programs are not appropriate even in relation to terrorists. Moreover, the representatives of younger generations have more negative views regarding monitoring, which reveals their attitudes towards freedom and its limitations (Rainie & Madden, 2015).

All in all, the population of the USA claimed that the government should have an opportunity to monitor others in specific circumstances. They believe that it can make the country safer due to the possibility to keep an eye open for the suspects of any criminal or even terrorist acts. A person’s digital activity may be used to reveal such things as “unusual bank withdrawals, the use of encryption to hide software, and situations where individuals are connected to social media users used hateful language about American leaders” (Rainie & Madden, 2015, par. 38).

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Thus, it can be concluded that Americans tend to have different positions when they are talking about the necessity of surveillance. It mainly depends on their age and knowledge of the topic. Generally, the citizens of the USA believe that monitoring can be appropriate and should exist when it is targeted at the representatives of other countries who came from abroad or those who are suspected of committing a crime. Under such circumstances, they see it as an ethical way of ensuring national security.

Harms of Surveillance

At the beginning of the 2010s, the information about the existence of a vast surveillance complex in the USA was revealed. It affected the way the population treated the government adversely. Realizing that they are surveilled, the representatives of the general public started to be afraid that their online privacy is at risk. According to the research conducted by the World Economic Forum in several countries, “a majority of respondents (50.2%) believe that the government monitors what people do on the Internet” (York, 2014, p. 29). Even more, people agreed that those who use the Internet could not be sure that their privacy is safe and need to realize that they put it at risk themselves. However, almost half of the individuals who participated in the study were sure that going online is safe, and they have nothing to be worried about. Still, as the information about the government surveillance became known to the society, almost 30% of the sample stopped using social media or limited such activities greatly. At the same time about 25% of them started to avoid speaking on particular topics online. The issue got so critical that some people even did not refer to those themes when writing or speaking without the usage of social media and the Internet, in particular (York, 2014). Thus, it cannot be denied that surveillance affects the general public in various ways. It limits people’s freedom, affects their privacy and safety, makes them submit to state control and does not allow to move forward as an unbounded society.

In the USA, the right to privacy is of great value. It is ensured by the Fourth Amendment, which proves its significance for the population. Still, while talking about the surveillance, it seems to be violated due to the effects made on the people’s freedom and right to be under no observation or disturbance. However, the willing to have privacy is not the only reason why electronic and any other surveillance faces the opposition. For example, the First Amendment prohibits the “creation of law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances” (York, 2014, p. 30). They say that it is critical to ensure the privacy and avoid such infringements because people cannot be free if they need to live in such boundaries. In addition to that, Article 19 the Universal Declaration of Human Rights can be considered. According to it, the representatives of the general public should have equal rights that allow them to express their opinion, search for and get information. Amy media, including the Internet, can be used for such purposes and frontiers should not matter.

In 2013, the most critical information about the electronic surveillance started to be known to the general public. It was revealed that people from all over the world are monitored even without realizing that. Such programs undoubtfully violate people’s privacy and have a negative influence on the expression and association. In this way, the free development face obstacles, as people cannot share their minds. As anonymity is affected, many people can experience adverse outcomes. For example, the information about the victims who are not willing to share their stories can be revealed. In the same way, when the privacy in group association is violated, its members can face adverse outcomes. Surveillance programs allow the governmental agencies to receive metadata related to the calls, photos, e-mails, etc. (Council on Foreign Relations, 2016). It is dangerous because people’s activities can be mapped so that their communications can be revealed.

The ways people start interacting on the Internet as they get to know about the electronic surveillance alter greatly. Some of them experience fear if they want to speak on some topics; others tend to withdraw the digital world, so they are at least risk of being monitored. All in all, the representatives of the general public tend to change their habits of media usage. For example, as they got to know about the surveillance, many people tried to delete the information related to their activities on the Internet and messages they sent. A lot of them also tried to hide personal data so that it could not be reached by particular people and organizations.

The fact that the public became aware of the mass surveillance caused issues to the governmental agencies and corporations involved in these programs. As the traffic is claimed to be monitored with the attempt to keep the population safe, the presence of the encrypted traffic affected it negatively (Nellis, 2014). The problems are also seen in the sphere of journalism. People who used to provide these professionals with the information tend to be afraid of disclosure of their personalities, which can lead to imprisonment (York, 2014). Encryption and its peculiarities started to be discussed by the general public. People got interested in the privacy-enhancing technologies, as they are willing to ensure the safety of their privacy. As a result, a lot of money is allocated to the development of those tools that can be used to prevent surveillance attempts.

The survey showed that almost 70% of the Internet users believe that the current law system is not good enough to ensure their safety and freedom (York, 2014). More and more people enhance their knowledge about the electronic surveillance, which makes them search for the ways that can help to prevent it. New tactics for opposition are developed to cope with the digital spying that is maintained by both the government and individuals. There is no universal answer that can be used to consider whether the advantages of mass surveillance are more critical than disadvantages yet. Still, the general public is sure that the influence on their privacy and freedom should be eliminated.

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Usage of Electronic Surveillance

Electronic surveillance provides the authorities with the opportunity to affect suspect’s activity. With the help of current technologies they are able to restrict some actions or to encourage them. Governmental agencies receive a chance to find potential criminals and to prevent them from affecting national security or people’s lives. Monitoring can be maintained in different ways. Supervisory techniques can be used, the offender can be tracked from a particular crime scene, or some locations may be controlled. In general, electronic surveillance is “a generic term which encompasses a range of technologies, currently using radio frequency, voice verification and combinations of satellite and cellular telephone tracking” (Nellis, 2014, p. 10). A range of existing surveillance techniques is rather wide, for example, existing remote alcohol monitoring allows to prohibit drinking to some degree as a part of the population would listen to that advice.

It is significant to remember that electronic surveillance is not only a tool which provides governmental agencies with the opportunity to find the particular suspects but also to influence the possibility to work with the mass. Professionals tend to speak about automation in this perspective, as depersonalizing will be easily maintained, and less human resources will be needed (Council on Foreign Relations, 2016). Still, the opportunity to automatize monitoring may increase the chances to reach it being a representative of the general public, which can be perceived as a potential threat from the society.

With the disclosure of the electronic surveillance, many representatives of the general public started to claim that they cannot trust the web network anymore, as it became occupied in unethical actions. They considered that such things as the Internet are to be protected from governmental monitoring to allow people feel free and secure. Still, governmental agencies tend to claim that they protect the nation in this way. They believe that a little invasion of privacy can be acceptable when talking about the well-being of the whole population. However, some people also say that being monitored, individuals are exposed to “criminal hacking, foreign espionage, and unlawful surveillance” (Gallington, 2013, par. 5).

The National Security Agency (NSA) is the organization that is responsible for the monitoring activities that are conducted in the USA. They are known as “President’s Surveillance Program” that gathers metadata and content. It was developed under the leadership of President George W. Bush to enhance national security. This program provides an opportunity to gather the information without warrants, which saves much time and effort. In 2005, four years after it was installed, the information about the program leaked, so the president admitted that it was made to prevent terrorism mainly (Gallington, 2013).

Currently, electronic surveillance is maintained in two ways. The information is obtained from the telecommunications cables and other sources directly or is received from the bodies that provide particular services. Such things as phone records, durations of calls, the contents of e-mails and chats are all checked. Still, Director of National Intelligence emphasized that that information can be obtained only if reasonable suspicion for conducting wrongful action exists. In this way, it already helped to prevent a lot of terrorist attacks that could have led to the death of many people. In fact, initially surveillance was considered to be a necessary force “against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the [9/11] terrorist attacks” (Council on Foreign Relations, 2016, par. 8).

Even though today a lot of people are aware of the fact that they are monitored, governmental agencies try to maintain their programs secretly. They can find almost any person and track one’s activities to consider if this individual is occupied in some wrongful activities or not (Rainie & Madden, 2015). As a result, a criminal can be found earlier, and negative influence can be reduced greatly. Still, the possibility of getting into this network by hackers cannot be totally denied. In this way, electronic surveillance can become a source of the vital personal information. Trying to avoid such tendencies, the NSA is expected to cope with a range of currently critical challenges, including society’s dissatisfaction.

Ethical principles are to be considered when operating in different spheres because they ensure that the actions are conducted appropriately, do not hurt people and their interests. A lot of professionals tried to consider what actions can be right and what are not good enough, but there is no clear decision. Electronic surveillance presupposes the usage of some technical objects with the purpose of gathering information instead of personal contact. Still, “the decision to adopt surveillance technology, to augment or replace human surveillance is never morally neutral” (Nellis, 2014, p. 12). Tools that appeared due to the technological development provided professionals with the possibility to reach new social availabilities and respond to some social problems. Today, many professionals start considering whether electronic surveillance can be better than the human one. It tends to involve less human resources and bases the majority of the operations on the technologies. As it turned out, electronic monitoring tends to appeal to the general public and police more because it is less biased. Offenders can even benefit from the electronic surveillance system because they can alter several years spent in prison. When talking about the mass monitoring, the government seems to have reasonable evidence of why to maintain it. However, the population is mainly dissatisfied with the fact that it was not aware of the surveillance for several years and that it still exists regarding of the fact that it opposes basic human rights.

Electronic Surveillance in the USA

Thus, it can be concluded that at the beginning of the 20th century, surveillance programs started to be used in different countries and the USA in particular. They were implemented after the terrorist attack in 2001 with the purpose to prevent them in future. With the help of electronic surveillance, the representatives of the governmental agencies obtained an opportunity to monitor people’s e-mails, phones, and the Internet activity, etc. As the population got to know about this, it divided into groups, considering whether they support it or not. But, in general, there were those people who did not care about surveillance and those who considered it to be the main problem of everything. People’s behavior changed because of this knowledge greatly, and some started to be afraid to talk about particular points.

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The society was and still is really concerned about the fact that its basic rights are violated by the government. Their privacy and security are at risk, and the freedom of speech is limited. In order to ensure the mass that the situation is stable, the government claimed that everything was done only to protect the population. However, Americans are still dissatisfied with the fact that they are monitored. The most appropriate approach for the majority of them is to ensure that only people from abroad can be potential terrorists are surveilled. In addition to that, electronic surveillance can be used not only to find a person but to make one’s movement limited to a particular territory, substituting imprisonment in this way. Even though electronic surveillance that is controlled by the government is maintained in various ways, professionals and the representatives of the general public are still not sure whether it can be considered ethical under particular circumstances or not. Still, they believe that the judicial system of the USA can solve this issue soon so that the parties come to the agreement.


Council on Foreign Relations. (2016). U.S. domestic surveillance. Web.

Gallington, D. (2013). Re: The case for internet surveillance. Web.

Nellis, M. (2014). Standards and ethics in electronic monitoring. 

Omand, D. (2013). NSA leaks: How to make surveillance both ethical and effective. The Guardian. 

Rainie, L., & Madden, M. (2015). Americans’ views on government surveillance programs. 

York, J. (2014). The harms of surveillance to privacy, expression and association. 

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