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Surveillance in the Digital Age

Overview of Internet Surveillance

Use of the Internet has become a daily routine for millions of people around the world. These people access and share information by the gigabyte every second. With so many transactions it is easy to forget that your Internet footprint is being monitored- maybe not at that exact moment, maybe not even until two years in the future, but the government will read your Facebook status update, and you employer will read that risqué joke email circulating the office.


Internet surveillance can be traced back to the mid 1990s, when the United States government began to screen information passing through Internet Service Providers’ databases. Internet surveillance is not exclusive to tracking Internet activities; it also includes closed-circuit television systems (CCTV) that are connected by a network system to a central observation station.


Safety, security, and prevention are common meanings associated with Internet surveillance. Since the events of September 11, 2001 the ‘war on terrorism’ has occupied a large portion of the concern for Internet surveillance. In fact, that is almost only what governments are looking for in their searches; potential risks to national security. Based on the newspaper articles used for this paper, two themes can be developed: 1) Internet surveillance is moving forward at a rapid pace, and 2) privacy is nonexistent as soon as something is posted on the Internet.


Textual Data Review

For this project I examined five news articles from various newspapers from countries including Canada, Australia, and India. Each article included themes of Internet or digital surveillance, privacy, and security. The oldest article I chose is from September 1998, and the newest is from October 2014. Even though there is a 16-year difference, there are several similarities between each of the articles. They all discuss breaches in the security of digital surveillance and possible reforms or ways to keep this from happening again.


One article I found particularly interesting was from The DQ Week, a weekly newspaper produced in several major cities in India, titled “How safe are you?” The article discusses India’s evolution from analog CCTV surveillance, to digital IP based monitoring. In 2009 the Indian network video surveillance market was valued at $26.1 million. (The DQ Week, 2011). Another interesting article was from The Age, a daily newspaper in Melbourne, Australia. The article titled, “Sex and surveillance” discusses employers monitoring their employees’ Internet browsing at work. The article focuses particularly on viewing pornography in the workplace, and argues that employees relinquish their right to Internet and email and Internet privacy at work. The remaining three articles from various Canadian newspapers discuss Internet privacy reform, privacy breaches, and the business of Internet surveillance. All of the articles are written from the perspective of the employer, government, or surveillance industry. I think these articles would have been better rounded if they contained input from people affected by Internet surveillance, such as an employee whose email has been searched by his or her employer.



In today’s society it is difficult to not have daily interactions with the Internet. So many of our jobs rely on email and Internet based communications. With the amount of communication traffic it is easy to bury information, either by accident or on purpose. In the article written by Karen Kissane from The Age, Kissane quotes the executive director of the [Australian] National Key Centre in Industrial Relations at Monash University, Julian Teichner, as saying, “The normal rights we have, or assume we have, to privacy do not necessarily apply at work.” (Kissane, 1998) Based on a survey completed by Australia’s largest companies, more than half answered yes to monitoring their employees on video surveillance. Many of these employers also monitor employee email accounts.


There is a big market for the sale of surveillance systems, “for interception of…web browsing, email, web-mails, social networks, peer-to-peer communication, web chat, and video chat” (Geist, 2012). The aptly named ‘Big Brother Inc.’ is growing exponentially each year. The Canadian government has introduced bill C-30 that requires Internet providers to “acquire the ability to engage in multiple simultaneous interceptions” (Geist, 2012). If and when this bill is passed, Internet providers must submit a document containing their current surveillance capabilities and infrastructure. The United States already has a massive surveillance network set up through the National Security Agency (NSA), code-named PRISM. PRISM “scours America’s major Internet companies for audio, video, photographs, emails, and other user data” (Goodman, 2013). Internet companies under particular scrutiny are Microsoft, Yahoo, Google, Facebook, Skype, YouTube, and Apple. In particular PRISM is looking for activity with potential risks to national security and wellbeing.


With all the talk and action on finding the information, focus has shifted to the security and storage of the data collected. The Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden cases have launched this matter into the media, causing public outcry. The United Nations (UN) published a report in 2014 calling for reforms in mass electronic surveillance, citing violations of the 1966 Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, which was endorsed by the United States and Canada, among other countries. The report also says that “states have the duty to protect their citizens, and compromising personal privacy could be necessary” (Ward, 2014).


There is no correct answer when it comes to Internet surveillance. On one hand, it is a method of protecting national and international security, but on the other hand, it violates some of the most basic human rights. For now as long as the Internet exists, someone, somewhere, will be watching.










Brown, I., & Korff, D. (2009). Terrorism and the Proportionality of Internet Surveillance.

European Journal Of Criminology, 6(2), 119-134. Retrieved from


Geist, M. (2012). It's big business watching you, brother. Ottawa Citizen. Retrieved from


Goodman, L. (2013). U.S. seeks source of surveilance leaks. Prince George Citizen.

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Greenberg, D. (1996). Computers Put The Byte on Privacy. The Washington Post.

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Kissane, K. (1998). Sex and surveillance. The Age. Retrieved from


Orwell, G. (1949). Nineteen eighty-four. New York: Harcourt, Brace.

The DQ Week,. (2011). How safe are you?. Retrieved from


Ward, O. (2014). UN urges reforms for electronic surveillance; Siphoning mass amounts

of data from consumers killing Internet privacy, report says. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from


Zuo, Y., & Jiang, X. (2013). Internet privacy. Studies In Sociology Of Science, 4(4), 32-

35. Retrieved from

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