surveillance, at a basic level, is the close monitoring & observation of an individual orcertain group of people over a fixed time frame. Likewise, the definition of masssurveillance is essentially the same as the aforementioned, the primary distinguishingfactor being the increase in the size of the targeted population. In an effort to frame a suitabledefinition of mass surveillance, it can be stated that the practice of mass surveillance is, in itssimplest sense, the subjection of an entire population, or a notable portion of it, to a level ofsurveillance that can be said to be of Byzantine complexity and intricacy. Mass surveillance has,on numerous occasions, been pointed out to be integral to the protection of national security,counterterrorism activities, and prevention of activities being of criminal, socially disruptive/damaging and/or other intents of nature analogous to the aforementioned. On the contrary, ithas been equally oftentimes, lambasted as an intrusion and limitation of privacy rights & a grossviolation of human, civil and political rights & freedoms.The inception of the concept of mass surveillance can be traced back to almost two and a halfcenturies ago, to the year 1791; the year in which the publication of the design of the ‘Panopticon’correctional facility was made, a model that was the contrivance of Jeremy Bentham, an Englishphilosopher, and death-sentence abolitionist. Bentham devised this structure in the hope of theevolution of a system that would encompass the pragmatic exemplars of a more magnanimoussociety. In late eighteenth century England, there were around 200 offenses punishable by death – cut pursing included. Besides execution, other common methods of penalizing criminals weredispatching them to fight wars or to make long, dangerous journeys to penal colonies in Americaand Australia. While inchoate prisons did exist in this period, for Bentham, these early penalinstitutions were not an acceptable alternative to execution, war or exile. It was an idea that woulddramatically alter the fabric of history. The design of the ‘Panopticon’ laid the underpinning forthe development of Modern Surveillance. According to philosopher Michael Foucault, Bentham’sPanopticon Prison concept was the earliest form of surveillance technology. The structure was toconsist of a circular edifice that required all the inmates’ cells to incorporate windows that servedto allow sunlight into the enclosure(s). Bentham envisaged a central watchtower that was to beconstructed in such a way that the tower’s architecture prevented the prisoners from being able toview/see any ongoing activity inside. The resultant atmosphere would be one of constant fear andof self-restricted behavior, resulting in Bentham’s goal of a surveillance of great efficiency.Foucault writes: “Hence the major effect of the Panopticon: to induce in the inmate a state ofthe conscious and permanent visibility that assures the automatic functioning of power.”The advantage of the existence of mass surveillance technology is that it does (to an extent)do away with activities of unlawful & criminal intent. While the main purpose of masssurveillance is to (as most government sources state) discover, investigate upon, and eliminatepotential threats/national security risks, the fact that the existence of such threats is almostnegligible with respect to the potential of surveillance systems oftentimes used as an argumentagainst the respective authorities that carry out such operations (such as the NSA, GCHQ, CES,2……… TCIS, NATGRID, etc.). While this is a very valid point to state with a rather overwhelmingamount of evidence to substantiate it, we usually tend to forget to take into account the possibilitythat the reason behind the rarity of such threats might actually be the sheer existence of suchestablishments. To put it more simply, what I am trying to look at is that we have almost alwaysoverlooked the possibility of such organizations’ operations being the very cause for the drasticreduction in unlawful activities. This is a possibility that seems highly unlikely; because the factremains that there is no concrete evidence to support this claim, which we shall examine in thesubsequent paragraph. But, as with all cases of probability, as long as there is a chance for this tobe the case (even though it is a very slim one), one cannot just ‘shrug it off’ as not the case.Upon close inspection of literature and reports provided to the masses by the media, one ispursued to adopt a conclusive view that that mass surveillance operations have been of no usewhatsoever in the identification and elimination of potential terrorist threats, and has, if anything,only made the process a more difficult and labyrinthine one. As an example to substantiate thisstandpoint, let us take a look at the aftermath of Edward Snowden’s revelations (2013) about theconduction of mass surveillance operations on the part of the NSA (National Security Agency).When the one-time CIA (Central Intelligence Agency) recruit and former NSA contractorrevealed to the world the undoubtedly scandalous extent of the mass surveillance of the Americanpublic and the collection of gargantuan amounts of intelligence collected from various foreignstates(The largest amount of intelligence was gathered from Iran, with more than 14bn reports inthat period, followed by 13.5bn from Pakistan. Jordan, one of America’s closest Arab allies, camethird with 12.7bn, Egypt fourth with 7.6bn and India fifth with 6.3bn) as well conducted by theNSA, US Government officials government officials set up defences to protect themselves andthe government from hounding and questioning. Numerous political figures and media channelsreiterated the Agency’s declarations that it had successfully averted more than 50 terror attacks(54, to be precise). But as with the case of many such declarations, this too turned out to be builtupon no certain evidence whatsoever. The main reasons for the lack of evidence being the level ofsecrecy with which the matter has been dealt with, and the high possibility that the NSA’soperations have yielded no great harvest due to the sole inadequacy of data-mining being a toolthat can be of avail in, as repeatedly stated before, identifying and eliminating potential nationalsecurity threats and risks (due to that being the very purpose of the existence of such authorities,as stated by various governments themselves). Data-mining is not a suitable or effective methodto achieve the goals that the aforementioned authorities have in mind. This is because of manyreasons, one of them being that the occurrence of terrorist attacks is very rare, as compared toother crimes, and due to the rarity of such occurrence(s), it becomes nearly impossible todetermine the key points of such operations through mass surveillance; because when animminent terrorist threat is identified, the surveillance system will also, in relation to that threat,identify millions of other potential connections to the attack. This is likely to happen as thesystem is a machine, and machines can only be programmed to perform a certain task (in thiscase, evaluating whether something is a threat or not, on the basis of certain requirements). Themachine is not equipped with the better judgment of humans to be able to eliminate harmlesssuspects, and we are not equipped with the ability to manually search through millions of profilesand determine who is and isn’t a threat. The machines produce enormous amounts of uselessinformation because they are programmed to track and detect profiles based on certain triggerwords. And as machines have limitations, they result in our data having limitations as well. Apartfrom that, there are other disadvantages as well. The knowledge that there are operations to carryout constant surveillance or the public may alert terrorists and put them on their guard, causingthem to be more precise and cautious while carrying out unlawful activities, or even encouragethem to stop using means of communication that can be observed and employ methods such asencrypted messages, etc. This complicates matters further, resulting in a worse situation than theone earlier. When personal data is collected and stored by governments in massive databases(such as the Aadhaar Card Biometric database of India with more than 1 bn. profiles) in the name3of counterterrorism measures, governments are actually digging their own and their citizens’graves. By creating such enormous databases of information, authorities create potential data’gold mines’ for hackers and other such people, risking the loss of extremely important detailslike bank details, addresses, etc. What started out as a seeming ‘security necessity’ has nowassumed the elephantine proportions of a ‘White Elephant’. This is only costing us billions’ worthof, not government money but the taxpayers’ money, for literally nothing, except for the detectionof unlawful activities that aren’t terrorist (again, for which, the citizens have to pay), completelydefeating the purpose of the whole system’s existence. In comparison to this non-yieldinginvestment in mass surveillance, there have been more cases of actual threat analysis andelimination as a result of the traditional investigative methods such as the use of informants, tipsfrom local communities, and targeted intelligence operations. More than ‘Mass’ surveillance, justsurveillance (targeted, as a result of traditional investigation) seems to bear more fruit.While government authorities cite the advantages of Mass surveillance to be many, they omitto explore the psychological section of the matter. It causes many disadvantages to society and itsfunctioning, at times, without our notice. The psychological state of people in a surveillance statecan be compared to that of a prison. As stated before, the knowledge that one is under constantmonitoring induces one into a state of conscious and permanent visibility that assures theautomatic functioning of power in correctional facilities. The same psychology can be applied tothis situation as well. Now that people are aware of the fact that they are being watched, thisknowledge causes them to induce upon themselves censorship of their views and ideas (especiallywhen they differ from popular opinion) to suit those of the majority and to seem right to avoidand suspicion. This would ultimately result in the formation of surveillance states. States in whicheveryone has the same voice, and the same opinion; where defiance exists not, even againstdecisions that are, from a common sense standpoint, wrong.The very fact that such huge responsibilities are handed to human hands is the biggestmistake there is, because naturally, ‘To err is human’. And err indeed we will. In fact, we alreadyhave.


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