Limits And Scope Of State Monitoring Of Citizens Through Technology

State Monitoring Of Citizens Through Technology
"It could be done only on principles of private justice, moral fitness, and public convenience, which, when applied to a new subject, make common law without a precedent; much more when received and approved by usage." ~ Willes, J., in Millar v. Taylor, 4 Burr. 2303, 2312
Right to privacy is one of the primary human rights law. Human beings are entitled to keep their personal boundaries intact. And nobody should be given the right to cross that. But in a contemporary age when numerous unprecedented forms of challenges have emerged. These include terrorism, cybercrime, the threat of national security, drugs, human trafficking, and the list is endless. Therefore states consider themselves entitled to some form of meddling into the personal business of their citizens. But boundaries and red lines have to be demarcated. Excess of anything creates imbalances. More than needed state monitoring can create a sense of unrest in a common man.

What Is At Stake?

The right to free speech sits at the core of the democratic fabric of any society. Tools like social media monitoring software are at times notoriously spying over the citizens’ social media profiles. They skim through their posts, activities, kind of friends or networks they have, to do the profiling of them. This software can be misused or misinterpreted easily. Misused in a way, that since it’s being used by police and security agencies. There is a high chance that a racially or ethnically biased police officer targets an innocent civilian based on their identity.

Free Speech Is The Backbone Of Democracy

Social media speech or conversation can’t be a perfect indicator of a person’s tendencies or personality. People often vent out things in virtual media that they would fear to utter in their real lives. Therefore some heated political or social debates can’t signify who might be a threat to society’s stability.

Secondly, it’s really detrimental to free discourse. Exchange of ideas through social media can also be fruitful to flourish diverse ideas. Silencing them with fear of state monitoring is an unhealthy practice. It can be manipulated by certain governments or autocratic regimes to silence dissent by force. They might target their political opponents specifically to instill fear. So who will guarantee transparency of such practices?

How Does The Public React?

As per Pew survey majority of Americans feel wary of excessive government surveillance. Nobody would feel comfortable knowing their private chats or messages are being read. Besides what purpose this excessive surveillance has served so far? Boston bombing, Orlando shootings, and multiple shootings or bombings incidents happened anyways. These monitoring tools didn’t help to prevent. So it’s evident that excessive state interference is creating public dismay.

There are ways to monitor terror activities. Powerful security organizations like NSA has access to gather access information through VPNs too. So they can easily detect frequent visitors on suspicious pages or curtail seditious activity while it’s still in pipeline. They can intercept malicious activities by monitoring internet traffic relevant to their cause. Probing any further will enhance mistrust among people for state institutions. They fear that their collected data might be used as a weapon against them if needed.

Many tech giants are rigorously demanding limitations on state surveillance. As many would feel discouraged from using social media platforms knowing even their private conversations are monitored.

How Far The Scope And Radar Of State Monitoring Goes?

It's not that states tend to monitor their own people alone. America’s NSA didn’t spare foreign heads of state. Even those of allies like German chancellor Merkel by phone tapping her. Listening to telephone conversations have already made many disillusioned with this privacy breaching practice. Whereas it was being done at the political level. It shows that security agencies are sometimes immature and start treating their scope of power as a means of entertainment. That is where eyebrows are raised against state monitoring.

The Distinction Of Citizen/Non-Citizen Be Abolished When It Comes To Privacy

So far countries have been making discrimination against foreign citizens. It’s done by excluding them from a list of ones whose privacy is protected by law. Even if not in practice but at least a legal cover can help many file a lawsuit. Foreigners aren’t even given this shield. President Obama made suggestions to include non-US citizens among those whose privacy is guaranteed by law.

A notoriously well-known display of violating individuals’ privacy can be seen at US airports. Travelers are stripped naked for body searches. Even foreign ministers and state officials are searched like criminals violating official protocol. Students are barred from entry after checking their social media profiles. A slight excuse can be enough to smash someone’s career aspirations. All these acts are a sheer breach of human rights and privacy law. And social media searches have become one biggest stimulator of these violations. Any random officer of border security shall probe into your social media, what you like, what you comment and can cancel your visa. As if screening before the visa wasn’t sufficient.

Bonus Point

Other than state monitoring, there are forms of harmless in fact productive tracking that are introduced with revolutionizing AI technology. One of those is employee monitoring. It doesn’t interfere in the private sphere of life and used in the workplace alone to enhance productivity. Especially in the presence of GDPR complying Time tracking software, it’s made more easy and protective of personal space or privacy.


The privacy of citizens and noncitizens should be respected, and at an equal level. In the modern age, it has become a tool of exploitation more than it serves the national security of any state.
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