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Homeland Security: Mass Surveillance Program Essay

The issue, in this case, is to identify if the benefits of digital surveillance outweigh the problems associated with it. Mass surveillance is an issue that was intensified after the bombing of twin towers in 2001. Therefore, the main intention of this program is to deter or avert terrorist activities in America significantly. This paper explores the article by Gellman, where the revelations of Snowden pertaining to the NSA are discussed. Most importantly, this paper will look at the issue in the context of homeland security as well as a personal opinion as to whether the system is justified.

What I still want to know

Still, I want to know is why organizations such as the National Security Agency face no risks, consequences, answerability, restrictions, and oversight. This is based on the fact the actions taken by Snowden may be considered unlawful as they have already warranted attention from institutions that enforce laws (Editorial Board par. 4). What is more, I may still want to know how the revelations by Snowden constitute a terrorist threat.

Successful scenarios

The National Security Agency says that the mass surveillance program has managed to avert some terrorist activities. Some of these scenarios include the case of the man who was convicted in San Diego for having links with Al Shabab, the other case is the planned subway system attack in New York, where the mastermind was tracked using an intercepted email account (Chapman par. 2-5). Last but not least, the NSA indicates that it prevented an attack on the New York Stock Exchange, which involved three Americans who were tracked using intercepted email information. Generally, as it can be seen, these are situations or scenarios provided by the government to justify the effectiveness of the National Security Agency. However, as it can be seen, when subjected to examination, none of these scenarios holds up.

My Personal Position

Unlike many critics, Edward Snowden was justified to leak intelligent information to the general public. This is because, as an employee, he was bound by the oath of secrecy even if he had to reveal it he would have raised the issue with concerned authorities than going public (Risen and Poitras 1). His action though to the public eye, was justified, represented a serious contravention of not only the core values but also the code of conduct of National Security Agency (Gellman 1-2). The idea is that matters to do with security are always sensitive; therefore those who have the privilege of access them must or have a duty to ensure that their fellow citizens are not predisposed to security threats.

Given information that was revealed relates to the functions of the National Security Agency such as the methods used to collect data, how the data is stored, and where it is stored, records of terrorist and their activities, such kind of information may easily be used by illegal groupings against the United States (Kopan par.3). Revealing this kind of information can easily damage to homeland security. As it has been indicated, it gives terrorists some means to avoid being tracked.

By the fact that the information contained personnel details, it puts many people at risk as the revealed information shows their enemies the kind of strengths they command (Sanger and Schmitt par. 7-8). For the moment, mass surveillance stands out as the best security program that can effortlessly keep trace of adversaries and people who may be involved in activities that under security laws are classified as activities that increase threats to homeland security (Risen and Poitras 2). This is based on the fact that other measures such as police barricades are highly limited in capacity.

The action by Snowden was not warranted as it also had the potential to damage the relationship between the US and other countries globally (Sanger and Schmitt par. 7). For instance, after the revelation, some foreign governments as well as groups both in Europe and Asia are not very happy with the US (Kopan par. 4-7). That is, the European Union has laws for data protection and as such does not support mass surveillance.

As a consequence, they may easily re-examine and restrict the data they have been sharing with the United States (Risen and Poitras 4). Asian partners, on the other hand, registered their displeasure with the United States and that they were concerned the data and information collected in the surveillance systems could at one point be employed against them. Most Asia countries share a lot of sensitive data particularly on election using online programs with the US.

Personal Educated opinion

Mass surveillance is an effective security program. These days it is not easy to access public events or institutions without being checked for several times (Gellman 5). It is effective in the sense that since it was intensified in 2001 following the terrorist attack, no single major acts of terrorism has been detected on the American soil. The mass surveillance program unlike many critics think can be employed for identification purposes as it uses algorithms thereby eliminating the need for passwords (Gellman 2). Unlike physical security checks, mass surveillance can significantly reduce long lines that characterize most airports (Sanger and Schmitt par. 5). This is pegged on the understanding that being a system that is technologically oriented it speeds up searches and can even detect items that cannot be physically detected.

It is easier to do business in a mass surveillance society. The reason behind this is that, mass surveillance is perfect and deters not only acts of terrorism but also crimes that equally risky (Kittle par. 3). Furthermore, eliminates the need for many security personnel as it functions in real time providing the available personnel with any information needed to arrest any compromising situation. The success of the mass surveillance program is majorly attributed to its effectiveness and the digital technology associated with the system. The reason for its successful implementation is that it is frequently evaluated in order to update with the changing times and security matters (Risen and Poitras 2).

Even though when revealing information, Snowden argued that the National Security Agency is responsible for authorizing access to metadata across the United States, it must be understood that the government has always maintained that the intention of the program is not be intrusive. That is, even the United States government itself cannot sieve through the data without permission or approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (Gellman 3).

In terms of infringing on privacy rights as alluded to by critics, it must be understood that even though privacy rights are imperative, rights quarantined under the constitution are not absolute. That is, privacy rights can be frustrated anytime if there is an issue that is important to the general public thus living the government with no option but to act accordingly. Some of these public concerns may include deterrence of acts of violence (Sanger and Schmitt par. 1-2). This is not new to United States, when President Abraham Lincoln faced a tough time way back in 1861; he had no option but to act in the interest of the general public.

This does not mean that I do not acknowledge the fact that mass surveillance programs can make mistakes. Also, the program is not meant to replace security personnel, but only helps intelligent personnel to access information, analyze and respond in time (Kopan par. 6). What is more, when evaluating this system it does not have to be the number of terrorism activities it has been able to avert but how it has eased the work of investigators particularly in terms of accessing important information that assists them to enhance homeland security (Sanger and Schmitt par. 2). Some of the critics think that for system to get their full support, the NSA must not just state but also proved evidence of the number of cases it has been successful, with this they fail to recognize that terrorist may only strike once and leave a permanent mark.

What prompted the discourse around this issue?

When in 2005, President Bush firstly admitted that a small aspect of the program only labeled the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” under the National Security Agency (NSA) was being monitored, without warrants, and involved many people inside the United States with suspected links to Al Qaeda (Grier 2). The federal government started by convincing all telecommunications corporations in the country to provide all phone call communications of their subscribers.

This information entailed the addresses, names as well as other communications of customers. As the matter progressed, it emerged that the aim of the program was to establish a database of not only every call made, but also personal information of all Americans or people living within the United States of America. This itself is not bad; however the only problem is that it was carried out without any legal oversight or a warrant.

However, it was in 2013 that a UK newspaper started publishing some information revealed by unidentified whistleblower from the United States of America who was later identified as Edward Snowden. According to people who laid their hands to these documents for the first time indicated that this dossier was the largest in American history. In less tan three months after going public, it became apparent that the National Security Authority runs an intricate program used to spy people with dubious character, allow it to intercept telephone and internet communications from many users across the world. Some challenges associated with this issue are based on the fact that different countries have registered their shock and disappointment with the US government. There is likelihood of some of these countries such as China, Australia and those in Europe to cut their relationship with the United States.

What still remains sketchy?

What is not clear or not mentioned is how NSA accesses personal information by bypassing encryption process of companies. In addition, it is not known how the National Security Agency was able to monitor secretly transmissions between Google and Yahoo data centers without their knowledge. This is based on the fact that both corporations denied giving the National Security Agency access to intercept such traffic.

Conceptual words used

There are a number of conceptual metaphors used and some of them include vacuuming of phone records, firewall between the domestic and international-spying. These metaphors have been used differently to explain the functionality of mass surveillance program. For instance, vacuuming of phone records means continued interception of phone information to avert terrorism activities. The concept was first used by the Federal Judge when emphasizing the importance that comes with mass surveillance and how it could have been employed to avert the 2001 terrorist attack in New York.

Firewall between the domestic and international-spying simply means the boundary between the domestic and international activities of investigative agencies. That is, the activity of FBI and CIA. Ideally, firewall was supposed to keep both FBI and CIA from sharing important information in a way that would help them know the activities of terrorists targeting American people both locally and internationally (Chapman par. 10).

Background information

In the past, mass surveillance program was employed during wars to control communications that could be used to the enemy’s advantage (Kittle par. 2-7). At a time characterized by WWI and even WWII, the United States military used to filter all telegrams send to the US or to any other destination from the US. Even after the world war surveillance still continued but this time was used by FBI to investigate the actions of “subversive” organizations. After the 2001 New York terrorist attack, mass surveillance involving a vast domestic intelligence program was initiated to collect information using the National Security Agency (Grier par. 2-4). The main duty of the agency is to collect, examine as well as store information relating to many American people and foreigners perceived to be taking part in activities such as terrorism that are harmful to the United States.

However, last year, one of the workers at NSA revealed to the general public the information that the NSA accesses and stores without warrant (Kittle par. 3-5). This caused uproar in the United States because many people did not know that NSA was accessing their personal information. For many Americans, the acts violate the peoples right for privacy and for the government it is only a limited process aimed at preventing terrorist activities on American soil.


In short, mass surveillance program has a lot of benefits when compared with measures of security. The program is highly efficient and works in real time. As it has been observed in the discussion, the program helps intelligent and security personnel to keep a vigilant eye on people both locally and internationally particularly who have the potential to harm the United States of America. As it has been seen, the program was not adopted to replace people but was to help expedite the work of security officers.

In terms of information disclosure, Snowden was perfectly out of order as the information he purported to reveal contained personal details which also defeat the idea of privacy rights he was agitating for. In other words, Snowden himself violated the very aspect he wanted protected by the state. Snwodens initial reservations with the system is that private information was landing in the hands of thirty parties. But when he revealed the information, he made it available to thirty parties.

Works Cited

Chapman, Steve 2014, . Web.

Editorial Board 2014, . Web.

Gellman, Barton. “Edward Snowden, after months of NSA revelations,says his mission’s accomplished”. The Washington Post (2013): 1-5. Print.

Grier, Peter 2014, Web.

Kittle, Byron 2014, New York Times Edward Snowden. Web.

Kopan, Tal 2014, . Web.

Risen, James and Poitras Laura. “N.S.A. Gathers Data on Social Connections of U.S”. Citizens. The New York Times (2013): 1-6. Print

Sanger, David E and Schmitt Eric 2014, . Web.

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