Modern technology is so integrated into our daily lives that we can hardly imagine living without it.
There is no doubt that with the improvements in technology, we can now do things faster and more precisely than our ancestors could. But there is a downside to this ease of life that technology has brought to us, such as losing our privacy right. Today, we are all covered by high-tech devices and systems that are supposed to make our environment safe and secure such as security cameras, fingerprint devices, and facial-recognition system. However, mass surveillance technologies, although made with the intention of increasing the safety, can have a reverse effect on the society. Bad technology has harmful mental and physical effects on people; not only will it not bring peace of mind to users, but it will also disrupt their right to privacy, which is an absolute right for every human.What it is mentioned less, when talking about mass surveillance, are the huge effects of such a system on individuals’ well-being in society. Having such technology around us, keeping our lives private has become more challenging. As individuals who naturally want to be in control, we associate losing the sense of privacy to feeling less in control over our lives.
A survey by Amnesty International of 15,000 people in 13 countries suggests that mass surveillance may be affecting our health. Researchers have proved that this can have serious effects on our physical and mental health and could result in illnesses such as anxiety, high blood pressure or even cancer (Villines). Health is not the only reason why we should question our government spying on us.It seems surprising that some don’t consider the fact that technology hasn’t always served us. Facial-recognition system, for example, is used to create a database of citizens to be able to detect criminals in the future. But there is a possibility that this information gets into the hands of people who misuse their position and power. Wendy Kaminer, author of Trading Liberty for Illusions states that “in Michigan, according to a report by the Detroit Free Press, police used a database to stalk women and intimidate other citizens” (qtd. in Kennedy 398).
When unqualified authorities get access to personal data, it also can put citizens in a dangerous and vulnerable spot. In addition to facial-recognition systems, there are other advanced technologies that study human motion and behavior. According to The Economist, the author of If Looks Could Kill, there are efforts being done by The Human Factors Division of America’s Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to make systems that are able to read facial emotions as well as behaviors(401). Knowing that cultures and races express emotions differently, this system might be doing controversial racial profiling.
Although told otherwise by the supporters, focusing disproportionately on racial minorities is another job made easy with recent technology. Just like the case with facial-recognition system, we do not know who and with what purpose will access the gathered information and how this will influence our safety.Many private citizens and law-enforcement officers maintain that if you have done nothing wrong, then you have nothing to fear from surveillance of your activities or searches of your home or car. They believe that losing our privacy is the cost to pay to live in a safer community. For this statement to be true, we first need to study how much mass surveillance technologies have actually been effective in reducing the crime rate. Wendy Kaminer argues:A recent report by the American Civil Liberties Union reveals that the widely publicized facial-recognition system used on the streets by Police in Tampa, Florida, “never identified a single individual contained in the department’s database of photographs.
” Instead, “the system made many false positives.” (398)Kaminer’s problem with the pro-surveillance argument is that what this technology has provided for us so far is not safety but just an illusion of safety. The surveillance system is still not intelligent enough to be able to detect the innocent from the guilty. It might be able to tell if a passenger in an airport is nervous, but it cannot tell if this is because he has done something wrong or because he worries they might question him or search his bags just because of his origin. This technology is not even doing what it was built for accurately. Even if it was, just because some people are willing to sacrifice their right of privacy to feel a little bit safer, does not mean everyone should. The right to privacy is absolute, and no individual must be put under any pressure by the authorities to give up this right.Using mass surveillance systems is just putting a band-aid on our real problem whichis having criminals in the society.
Nobody is born a criminal, and efforts to address crime rates should focus on its systematic causes, rather than temporary, short-term solutions with questionable efficacy. The budget spent on mass surveillance systems and prisons should be used on programs that address everyone’s basic needs such as education and creating equal opportunities for different social classes. This technology is causing more problems than it is pretending to solve. The negative psychological and physical effects of it, the disruption of our privacy right and the access of unqualified authorities to our information, not only affects the individuals in the society but also in a larger scale is widening the gap between the nation and the government. It is creating a society in which the border between public and private is completely blurred and fearful and vulnerable people distrust their government even more.
With thinking thoroughly about all aspects of mass surveillance and considering the negative effects of it and not giving consent to this kind of surveillance, citizens should face the government and put pressure on the authorities to stop mass surveillance.