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Government Surveillance in the United States: Analytical Essay

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Table of contents

  1. Growth of US Surveillance
  2. US Surveillance background
  3. Pro-Surveillance supporters
  4. Anti-Surveillance advocates
  5. Conclusion

This text seeks to analyze how citizens’ voices are being suppressed through government surveillance with a focus in times of national crisis where inhabitants are asked to exchange privacy and liberty for security and protection. Some supporters of heightened government surveillance ratify the actions as believed to be obligatory for national protection, on the other hand, those against it argue the importance of privacy rights serving as a shield for individuals from the scrutinizing eyes and ears of neighbors, huge corporations, and the state itself.

The growth in concern regarding this issue started in 2013 when Snowden revelations were released which was identified to be an unprecedented breach of United States classified intelligence. (Greenwald) Not only did it alarm the citizens of the United States but it also caused an international repercussions when Snowden decided to resign from his position and divulge many classified documents he had access to when he was still part of the National Security Agency (NSA) in order to reveal the ways of the intelligence community in conducting its tasks. The extent to which the United States government had been employing technological resources such as global positioning systems, biometric technologies, data surveillance, along with video monitors and airport body scanners to conduct surveillance remains an issue of intense debate.

Growth of US Surveillance

On September 11th, 2001 marks the unprecedented augmentation and historical turning point of national security efforts within and outside the United States when both the Pentagon and New York were targeted by a terrorist attack. With the huge support of the citizens in order to preserve the safety and protection of Americans, the nation took rapid action in which was called by President George W. Bush “War on Terror.”

After the terrifying attack, the US invasion of Afghanistan on October 7, 2001, develop into America’s longest-standing protracted conflict in history. As a result legislative measures were quickly taken, with the legitimate intention to protect and prevent the nation from possible similar 9/11 attacks. The most supreme of these measures was the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act,” or commonly known as the USA PATRIOT Act, which made changes to US law, including laws pertaining to mass surveillance conducted both domestically and abroad, banking, immigration, and diplomatic espionage (Bamford,Boghosian, MacAskill,Peissl,Smith & Hung). “The USA PATRIOT Act greatly expanded the US government’s authority to use surveillance domestically and internationally and removed many of the previous restrictions that had been set into place, for the protection of personal privacy” (Peissl, Smith & Hung). The Act also allowed the use of eight electronic mass surveillance and the storage of personal data on American people while diminishing the checks and balances of public accountability and judicial oversight (Boghosian, Byman & Wittes, Etzioni, Greenwald, Peissl, Smith & Hung).This level of infringement on private lives was an important departure from what had gone on before.

US Surveillance background

As far back as the country’s conception, legislatives acts and measures on US surveillance were already prevalent, however it took a huge turn during the 20th century as communication advancements were rising whilst onset of World War I and II. During World War I, with the heightened utilization of radio technology for military operations, the US 5 decided to create Cipher Bureau, to help with cryptology and radio intelligence and or the study of codes and how to crack them. Although theCipher bureau was immobilized in 1929, it was reconstructed as the core of the Signal Security Agency in World War II (McNiff). The first law to address wiretapping was the Federal Communications Act of 1934 and established the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which states that wiretapping was not illegal, however the “information that was gathered was protected under a nondisclosure agreement” (FCC).

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Pro-Surveillance supporters

Some of the most distinguished advocates of surveillance included the following: Republican Speaker of the House John Boehner; the Bush administration; former Secretary of Defense Robert M. Gates, attorney Gerald Walpin, journalist and senior producer at CNBC Mathew J. Belvedere. What all of these notable people and others have in common is that they link their position of support for surveillance to the war on terror which was a term coined by President George Bush.

During and after the 9/11 era, supporters of government surveillance pushed the argument that government surveillance is not only necessary for the protection of the people and is constitutional, but also mandatory for the US intelligence community to install the most advanced and up to date technologies to monitor electronic communications domestically and internationally. (Allen, Blankley, Inkster, Lomas, Toxen,Walpin). In addition, pro-surveillance group states that for government surveillance to be effective and efficient, especially when it comes to averting terrorist attack, it should not be restrained (Blankley, Lomas, Walpin,).

Anti-Surveillance advocates

Huge critics of the government surveillance include authors such as: author and former journalist for The Guardian, Glenn Greenwald; former Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISA) Judge John D. Bates; journalist for the New Yorker John Cassidy; former intelligence analyst Edward Snowden, among others.

Those who oppose government surveillance argues that surveillance by the US government in particular has turned extreme to the point of almost becoming a threat to democracy and the rights of American citizens (Boghosian, Cassidy, Frontline, Gellman & Poitras, Greenwald). Based on their view, state surveillance is a violation and abuse of governmental power against the American constitution of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”


Despite the many voices from political leaders and American citizens to urge a balance between privacy and surveillance, it is still strongly suggested that the relationship between the ones concerned for human rights and the ones worried with security appears to be a polarized one.

In order to create a balance, forcing a new kind of accountability such as the current rise of WikiLeaks would be the best option. Information sites like this seems to provide a large possibility that enclosed information to the public will now be shared openly to keep democracy in check.

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Government Surveillance in the United States: Analytical Essay. (2022, September 27). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 24, 2024, from
“Government Surveillance in the United States: Analytical Essay.” Edubirdie, 27 Sept. 2022,
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