Free «The Admissibility of Surveillance on Social Network Platforms» Essay Paper

The Admissibility of Surveillance on Social Network Platforms

Introduction

With the rise of Internet usage, an associated rise of social networking sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube, has occurred. Apparently, various organizations, namely governments, continuously gather data from these social network sites, which they use to make critical decisions like hiring, and it leads to the following questions: (1) Are the social networks users even aware that they are always under surveillance by governments, private organizations, and even the social networks? (2) Should the developers of social networking sites be obliged to safeguard the privacy of users interacting on their platforms? (3) Should social networking platforms under any circumstances, coerced or not, provide any information about their users to third parties be it profitable to them or not? (4) Shouldn’t social network sites like Facebook and Twitter apply ‘digital locks’ to encrypt user information from the glaring eyes of unwanted observers who intend to pry into the users' private information stored on these social network sites? Most importantly, (5) is it ethical or even permitted by the law that governments and third parties eavesdrop on social network users and gather data about them without their (the users') knowledge and consent under any circumstances?

These questions are of absolute importance; apparently, surveillance has emerged as a tool that governments use to obtain the intelligence required to inform their decisions amongst other uses. However, this intelligence obtained by surveillance on social network sites raises a lot of ethical and legal issues over its admissibility. It is unethical and illegal, under any circumstance, that governments should obtain intelligence by watching over social media users without their knowledge or consent, and the creators of these platforms should go a step further and ensure they design some kind of ‘digital locks’ to prevent governments, institutions, and corporates, including themselves, from accessing users’ information on their platforms.

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Relevant Issues

Mutual, Utilitarian, Operator-User Bargain

Technology and Internet usage keep growing rather simultaneously sparking heated debates between those optimistic about the duo and those skeptical about it. Consider a simple technological advancement like mobile phone; which has apparently evolved from a very simple device to something very sophisticated known as smartphone. These smart devices have been developed to an extent they are almost occupying the place of personal computers; people use them to connect with others regardless of the location, and they can easily browse the worldwide web using the same gadgets (Schneier 4). Moreover, people really want to use these devices and their modifications, but what the majority of users do not understand is that interacting by using these devices requires that the cell phone companies know your geolocation, and so do the social network sites (Schneier 4). Therefore, there is an apparent bargain of some kind between the mobile phone operators, the internet service providers (ISPs) and the operators of social network sites and the users that in exchange for interacting on their platforms, the operators will keep the users under surveillance to determine their exact locations. It achieves utilitarian satisfaction that is mutual to the users and the operators.

 
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Discrimination as the Price for Mass Surveillance

Today’s technology and social sites have enabled governments and other organizations to conduct mass surveillance on the citizens. It is a dangerous move as it is an entry point for gender, race, religion, ethnicity, age, politics or class based discrimination of persons. Decisions to admit or hire people are now being based on algorithms, which are becoming overused and over-depended (Lynch 7).  They also gather data of the potential candidates, and it could wrongfully flag potential workers and learners as ineligible due to prejudices based on the aforementioned factors and, in return, end up sabotaging public interest, and the rights of persons.

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Privacy: The Type of Information Mined from the Surveillance

From a person's interactions on phone or social networks a number of things about them are obtainable: peoples' identities, their locations, their places of work, places of study, or even the church they attend. The surveillance is rather intimate (Schneier 5). Sometimes, the operators can even determine routes that people take. They can track other phones within a person’s locale and hence identify even people’s business associates and sexual partners. Therefore, a body with an intention to obtain data about a person can literally get anything and everything that these people air on social network sites and this contravenes a person’s right to privacy.

A Regime’s Cornerstone of Power and Control: Real Life Manifestations of Surveillance on Internet and Mobile Phone Users

There are innumerable real-life cases in which those who use social network sites and mobile phones were watched, over and critical information about them was obtained. In 2012 for instance, peoples’ whereabouts over their next 24 hours could be accurately predicted to a 20 meters radius (Schneier 4). The year of 2014 saw the Ukrainian government deliver a positively Orwellian message to Kiev residents who happened to be in certain places at a particular time (Schneier 4). In 2010, without even seeking a warrant to do so, the Michigan Police Department looked for information regarding every mobile phone functioning in close proximity to places imminent with labor protests (Schneier 5). During the Arab Spring of 2011, commonly dubbed as the “Facebook Revolutions,” in the Middle East and Northern Africa (MENA), most Arabic regimes, wary of imminent revolts, continuously watched over social networkers on Facebook and Twitter in a bid to find and apprehend revolution mongers and propagators; something that prompted the orchestrators to coin monikers and aliases in order to conceal their identity and thus manage to dodge apprehension (Comninos 4, 16). In 2013, Edward Snowden, via the Washington Post and in a rather brave move, exposed the intention of the National Security Agency (NSA) to source intelligence from non-US citizens interacting on social medias that used US-based servers through a project dubbed PRISM (B. Dreyfuss and E. Dreyfuss; Homelandsecuritynewswire.com). The NSA (USA) and the GCHQ (UK) track people using their location data. It is even alleged that the NSA can track phones even when they have been switched off. All these are cases and points in time when governments and third parties are seen watching over social networkers and phone users sometimes even overstepping their privacy to sound its power and control over the citizenry.

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Business Thriving on Public Interest: Companies in Regular Surveillance Business

There are numerous startups making enormous amounts in returns from the art of mining data from social networkers and mobile users. Schneier (5) lists a number of firms whose operations are mainly grounded on the art of surveillance. For instance, Sense Networks uses personal data to compile personal profiles for social networkers; Vernit specializes in phone tracking which it sells to governments and corporations; Cobham from the UK sells systems that enable users to make blind calls to others and thereafter track the phone to as close as a meter; Defentek from Panama sells a system that can, without being detected, track any phone number anywhere in the world. At a 2008 hacker conference, Tobias Engel (a telecommunications guru) showcased the same thing and criminals can do this as well. Other services like Yelp, Uber, and Google Maps obtain this information to help the user. Conversely, the HelloSpy app can be installed on someone`s phone to track them. The social network operators (Facebook, Twitter, Google+) themselves sell personal information about users to advertisers.

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Arguments Supporting the Proposition

The above proposition is strongly supported by the following arguments:

  1. First, mass surveillance done by governments and corporates is a contravention of the rights of individuals as it oversteps and undermines the privacy of people, which is their constitutional entitlement.
  2. Secondly, when the operators of mobile phone networks and social network platforms sell personal information to advertisers, they make users their merchandise highly rated by the users' profiles, which is a selfish stunt that undermines public interest and individual rights as well as a mutual advantage. The operators make profits by selling personal information about people and the people themselves do not receive any benefit from it.
  3. Moreover, sourcing out a person's information and using it in whichever another form that the big data miners may deem necessary, governmental or not, for national security or not, without the person's knowledge and consent is a contravention of personal autonomy. It would be courteous to have the people approve of these actions, and it is of utmost public good and mutual advantage.

Arguments Opposing the Proposition

The proposition can be objected on the following grounds:

  1. First, at times of great need when national security matters are at stake, without sufficient time to seek public approval, and when it is evident that seeking public approval will compromise the goal of operations, safeguarding the public overwhelms honoring individuals rights and warrants the government to do all that is possible to secure the people. Once the people realize the steps were taken for their own good, they would even appreciate the government for that.
  2. In addition, in a free world, business or not, any transactions are done on the basis of a willing ‘buyer’ and a willing ‘seller,’ and no user is coerced to give any information about themselves, and they should realize that privacy ceases to be a social norm on social networks. Thus, if they are so conscious about their privacy, they should avoid using such platforms.
  3. Finally, some services like Uber and Google Maps have benefited users by using the users’ personal information to help them.

Conclusion

Conclusively, surveillance on social networkers and mobile phone users has been to contravene quite a number of individuals' rights to privacy and autonomy. Surveillance is a selfish avenue that governments and institutions use to exploit peoples' personal information for their own gains, sometimes making decisions that discriminate against certain individuals based on how they use their phones or social networks. It may be objected that at times national security matters outdo all other rights individuals are entitled to, and that people are not forced to air their private life on these platforms, and they also stand to benefit from this surveillance. However, it is not in order to achieve success through wrong means; it is not merely ‘the end justifying the means' thing. If the public stands to benefit, it is not right that things are done behind their backs. Moreover, it may give the aforementioned bodies a chance to misuse the window of opportunity given the excuse of national security. As a result, it is unethical and illegal to watch over peoples' private life just because they are enthusiastic users of technology and what it bears, and, thus, governments and third parties should be digitally locked from watching over social networks and cell phone users.

 

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