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Collecting the phone data logs of all citizens Critical Essay

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Updated: Dec 29th, 2019

Details of the Program

The National Security Agency (NSA) has gathered phone data from several cell phone users. Such data could reveal critical details about their owners. Big data are important in identifying individuals and their habits.

However, the program does not require the service provider to reveal subscribers’ personal details like names, contact information, or addresses. In addition, the NSA does not monitor subscribers’ calls and text messages (Luckerson 1).

The US government has the right to collect metadata legally under the Judicial Order issued to the cell phone service provider. Hence, the NSA does not require any authorization from cell phone owners to collect their data. Metadata include call time and phone details of users (Luckerson 1). However, the NSA order prohibited the service provider from revealing the big data collection program to customers or any other party.

There was also a revelation that the NSA had gained direct access to other modes of communication and data storage facilities. These included Internet servers and databases of service providers. The exercise focused on e-mails, chat sessions, and videos of customers.

The government concentrated on big data storage facilities of Yahoo!, Apple, Google, and Microsoft. Technically, big data are useful for tracking and identifying any suspect, either foreign or citizens and their intentions. However, the issue is that the government has been conducting surveillance on its citizens secretly.

It is not clear whether other service providers are also a part of the metadata collection program, but it is clear that communication logs from most customers are in the database of the NSA. The secrecy of the entire program has created a sense of uneasiness within the public.

The Program Rationale

The government launched the metadata collection program as a part of a wider push for improving internal security and tight surveillance because of constant terrorism threats.

The federal government has a critical role of providing security and privacy to all its citizens. Hence, the government must maintain the right to privacy always. Many critics believe that this action amounts to invasion of right to privacy and civil liberties provided under the Fourth Amendment.

Security scholars have claimed that one major lapse that contributed to the 9/11 attacks was the inability of the government to use available data and link them to terrorists.

Hence, the decision to collect metadata from cell phone service providers is an effective way of gathering useful information about networks of suspected individuals. However, the use of data analytics is not enough to fight terrorism. Instead, security forces should rely on reliable methods of fighting terrorisms.

Today, majorities have cell phones. Wireless communication gadgets have immense data, which are useful not only for security agencies, but also for commercial enterprises (Minelli and Chambers 19).

The NSA can analyze such data in order to detect unique patterns of behaviors among suspects, their spending habits, socialization patterns, and factors that shape their thoughts. The cell phone is unique because it belongs to only one person and can stay with the owner throughout the day (Miller 1). However, the law prohibits the government from unlawful use of such data.

The federal government believes that the NSA requires such big data in order to track and discover any links between their targets abroad and individuals in the US (Associated Press 1). A big data project is least invasive and respectful method of hunting for criminals among the innocent public. This goes beyond race, culture, or political affiliation, and the NSA does not have to listen to anybody’s conversations.

The use of the big data is to create a pattern that can lead to specific individuals of interest to the government. However, the NSA must observe the law throughout these processes and listen to anybody’s conversation after approval from the court.

Phone firms have used their customers’ handsets to gather market intelligence. The system collects all calling data, messaging, chats, and other online trends (Mayer-Schonberger and Cukier 123). In addition, consumers have smartphones, which already have tracking devices, identify other people nearby with phones, and capture images and videos.

For instance, in an experiment Robert Lee Hotz notes that every student’s phone scanned the area after every six minutes for any nearby phone in order to facilitate face-to-face communication. In addition, after every 20 minutes, the phones scanned the area and kept call logs, behaviors, relationships, and buttressed by detailed surveys (Hotz 1).

This experiment shows possible ways through which the NSA and the FBI could use to collect data from people and invade their right to privacy. It is a smart way of collecting data about behaviors of people and analyzing them secretly in order to understand intelligence details, which can help in spying and intrusion into personal lives of others.

The Program Criticism

The federal government must guarantee the right to security and right to privacy of American citizens. However, many critics believe that gathering of metadata from the public infringes on civil rights because it is an intrusion into individuals’ privacy. Based on the Fourth Amendment, any form of invasion and intrusion on the right to privacy is illegal (Roots 20).

They claim that the surveillance is outrageous and lacks position in a democratic and free society. Hence, it is imperative to review the big data collection program and, the NSA should find other suitable methods of gathering data.

Past studies have revealed useful insights in complex nature of humanity, but they also indicate that the metadata collection program brings a new challenge to basic rules of interactions among individuals and challenges the idea of privacy. Many critics believe that the NSA’s action to collect private information and communications of millions of people is quite disturbing, particularly the secrecy of the program.

Although the proponents of this program claim that it is necessary and vital in the fight against terrorism, it remains illegal under the law.

They also claim that the NSA does not listen to anybody’s private calls and communication and there are adequate oversight and safeguard measures to ensure that the NSA does not abuse metadata in its possession. However, one cannot be so certain about what the NSA does with personal data it collects from people privately.

Civil libertarians have refuted the NSA big data program because they believed that the NSA has gathered enormous data from individuals who were not necessarily criminals or suspects. Under the law, cell phone companies should not distribute their customers’ information to any third party, unless such customers’ provide their consents or directed by the court.

While one may claim that Americans are concerned with their privacy rather than their security, it is unreasonable to institute surveillance on every citizen as a way of combating terrorism. Privacy issues are not simple to understand since many entities have often misused and abused personal data. Thus, the NSA should conduct such surveillance on specific individuals with criminal intent.

The right to privacy aims to protect people and the kind of information they share with others and usages of such information. Cell phone firms have all data about their clients. These may include names, social security number, bank details, financial data, e-mail address, demographic and physical address among others.

It is difficult for customers to know how these firms handle such data, but they are useful for marketing activities and security issues. Personal data are susceptible to identity theft and fraud.

The flow of personal information may increase such cases. However, such organizations must have effective internal policies to protect data from abuse and theft. The challenge has been that not many organizations adhere to right to privacy of their customers.

The Privacy Act of 1974 protects all personal data in possession of the government against any form of abuse and unauthorized sharing, transfer, or disclosure. In addition, people have the right to seek for clarification, correct mistakes, and get information in case of any disclosure.

These processes rely on the Freedom of Information Act. Yet, the NSA and cell phone companies have engaged in illegal acts of sharing and transferring citizens’ data without their knowledge or consent.

Critics must understand that privacy and security are critical and intersect at some points. One must recognize that many issues of importance touch on both security and privacy. These may include communication, detection of secret agendas, intrusions, training, and responses among others.

From a theoretical perspective, security measures should protect individual privacy. However, these are two critical factors, which overlap. Security must focus on both physical and virtual aspects of protection. In other words, security must offer protection to sensitive data in both electronic and physical forms.

The government should use information security policies in order to protect information privacy and individuals’ private information. However, in situations on national security, the NSA must violate such privacy of individuals and use tools they have to fight terrorism and protect potential victims.

This interrelationship between security and privacy shows that matters of national security and safety are paramount and will remain superior to individual privacy.

Argument against the Program

This memo does not support the government’s decision to gather big data secretly because the Fourth Amendment regards electronic surveillance as a form of abuse against right to privacy. The era of big data has arrived. The NSA must use tools at its disposal to fight terrorism, but it must not violate citizens’ right to privacy.

The Fourth Amendment recognizes that cell phone data collection, which is under electronic surveillance, could be illegal means of obtaining evidence. Although analysts believe that the 9/11 happened because the government lacked data to rely on for decision-making in fighting terrorism, the government can use right procedures to collect evidence from suspects rather than resorting to violation of citizens’ rights.

Relying on such metadata from phone records is an important method of understanding networks of terrorists and other suspects.

However, it is imperative for the NSA to bring the process to the public domain. Ethically and legally, it would be right for the NSA to collect these data on a large-scale and use them appropriately, but it does not seem right when the spying agency does it in secret.

Works Cited

Associated Press. . 29 Sept. 2013. Web.

Hotz, Robert Lee. The Really Smart Phone. 22 April 2011. Web.

Luckerson, Victor. . 5 June. 2013. Web.

Mayer-Schonberger, Viktor and Kenneth Cukier. Big Data: A Revolution That Will Transform How We Live, Work, and Think. New York: Eamon Dolan, 2013. Print.

Miller, Wayne. R.I. critics see U.S. government’s phone data collection as intrusion. 7 June 2013. Web.

Minelli, Michael and Michele Chambers. Big Data, Big Analytics: Emerging Business Intelligence and Analytic Trends for Today’s Businesses. New York: Wiley, 2013. Print.

Roots, Roger. “The Originalist Case for the Fourth Amendment Exclusionary Rule.” Gonzaga Law Review118 (2010): 20. Print.

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1. IvyPanda. "Collecting the phone data logs of all citizens." December 29, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/collecting-the-phone-data-logs-of-all-citizens/.


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IvyPanda. 2019. "Collecting the phone data logs of all citizens." December 29, 2019. https://ivypanda.com/essays/collecting-the-phone-data-logs-of-all-citizens/.


IvyPanda. (2019) 'Collecting the phone data logs of all citizens'. 29 December.

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