The Internet is like a web made up of whiteboards marked with permanent Sharpie markers. Each person has their own that displays their personality and their life for all to see. Many think they are under control over their displays online and who is able to view their information. What many don’t know nowadays is that your information can be tracked. There is no escaping this surveillance that anyone can find out almost anything about you that is posted. Information is there permanently.
Whether you like it or not, you’re under the watchful eye of many. The Internet is a valuable resource for finding information about individuals. The thought that someone can be searching for your information at any given moment is a little creepy when you think about it, and it’s creepier to know how easily accessible your information actually is. From highly protected government agencies to regular people with a dose of curiosity, we all partake in the act of surveillance whether we realize it or not.
High Profile Surveillance: Under the Government’s Watchful Eye
Most people tend to associate online surveillance with the government’s unjust actions to monitor the people of its country. The United States’ National Security Agency and the Obama administration have been brought under fire for their actions regarding online surveillance. The NSA’s actions were exposed by the controversial Edward Snowden case. Snowden, a former worker for the CIA, released government files revealing the NSA’s and Great Britain’s Government Communications Headquarters’ (GCHQ) extensive surveillance programs that are able to tap into information stored by major US companies. This information is often gathered without individual warrants and by intercepting mass fiber-optic cables. One of the programs in question is PRISM, a 20 million dollar-per-year surveillance system that offers the government access to information on individuals through technology companies like Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others. PRISM is just one of the systems used to track information often by seemingly illegal means.
With the release of the information that the government is tapping into people’s online personal data, many have felt personally victimized in the process from individuals to the businesses themselves. People have been very vocal about their feelings regarding the known government surveillance since the release of the Snowden files in June 2013. Many feel the government has too much control and has brought into the question the legitimacy of the laws that allow this type of infringement of privacy to take place. In February 2014, websites banded together to protest the government’s surveillance to protect civil liberties and freedom in the online realm. Many of the high profile protesters included Reddit, Tumblr, Mozilla, and the makers of Firefox. They claimed that the NSA’s programs violate the First and Fourth amendments of the US constitution protecting individuals’ right to speak, right to privacy, and unreasonable searches and seizures. In addition, these media giants also argued these government surveillance systems are hurting their businesses by limiting their freedoms to operate without government interference.
In these protests, dozens of different rallies and events were broadcast online from areas around the globe, including San Francisco, London, Chicago, Stockholm, and more. People were all able to partake in the festivities to help fight for what they believe in as freedom online without the fear of constantly being watched. This has been a heated argument in the news and people feel so strongly about this topic.
While government surveillance has garnered much unrest and disapproval from the public, the government isn’t the only entity that people need to fear. Individuals themselves act as a form of surveillance on others on almost all social media platforms. Any information that’s put online will remain there for anyone to find. People no longer need highly secretive, advanced government technology and programs to gather information. They use their own super sleuth skills to discover facts, scandals, or basically anything that they may find of importance.
In a way, people have become their own self-serving detectives. They act as journalists uncovering the truth or reporting what they see online as a way to inform the public of what is happening. This has been documented in small to even large-scale events. Think about it. An employer might use surveillance of online information to find out the true personality and work ethic of a potential candidate for a job. If the employer finds Facebook pictures of an applicant passed out with derogatory words written all over him after a night of heavy partying, the employer might pass up giving the job to that applicant and give it to one who has a clean record. In another example, before going out on a first date with someone you don’t know that well, you might try to find their information online to discover more about their personality, their likes and dislikes, or even criminalizing information. By doing a simple search on Google, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, or any other social media site, you can be your own detective and watch over others.
Recently, a girl’s Facebook post cost her family to lose a court case in which they were involved. A 69-year-old former head of a prep school in Miami, Florida filed an age discrimination complaint because he contract wasn’t renewed and felt it was because of his age. The school and Patrick Snay, the former headmaster of the prep school, came to an $80,000 settlement; however, Snay was never granted the money. Before the deal was settled, in a post on Facebook, Snay’s daughter wrote, “Mama and Papa Snay won the case against Gulliver. Gulliver is now officially paying for my vacation to Europe this summer. SUCK IT.” The girl’s Facebook friends all discovered the post and word of it spread through the grapevine, eventually making its way up to school officials. Since in the settlement agreement it was stated that no party was to speak of the outcome of the case until after it was finalized, Snay was denied the money.
This is just an example of the myriad of different ways in which posting information online is constantly being watched. There is no escaping the surveillance of citizens online who try to do their best to maintain a fair environment. If they notice something has gone awry or in which some wrongdoing is occurring, they report on it to make it right.
Surveillance As Witnessing and Citizen Journalism
As people act as surveillance systems online, they are more likely to report corruption or unfairness that is occurring. The concept of citizen journalism emerges then, as individuals rather than giant media outlets or government officials are the ones who are reporting. Social media surveillance encourages this air of citizen journalism. This also, however, promotes that idea that people are watching you everywhere. With the capability they have to witness and event and take to social media to report their findings or even uncover hidden information online on social media sites, there is no escaping the public.
Surveillance transcends social media sites and into the real world with smartphones. A picture or information about an event can now show up without your knowledge anywhere at any given time. You never know when someone could be waiting to snap a photo. In a personal example, I ran into Louis Tomlinson from One Direction in my local mall one day and I was able to take a photo with him before others realized who he was. We were sworn to secrecy about his location as to not cause a scene where he was. A few minutes later, however, word had gotten out about his appearance when photos of the band member showed up on Twitter. Someone tweeted the pictures of Tomlinson in the mall walking and someone even snapped a photo when I was taking a photo with him. Suddenly, I ended up on One Direction fan twitters all over with photos I didn’t even know were being taken. A friend of mine from California even found this picture while she was perusing Tumblr and uncovered the event that the One Direction member met with fans at a Long Island mall. People acting as citizen journalists are everywhere ready to document their life they witness.
It’s amazing how much surveillance exists in multiple ways. You have the same amount of power as anyone else this a smartphone or a computer to change someone’s world for the worse or better. Use this wisely and be weary of your persona both in person and in the online world because it’s simply inescapable.