Cyberspace has bestowed the twenty first century with the fastest and easiest systems of communication systems. It has enabled people to send and receive information within seconds from limitless directions with just a click of the Mouse. In the contemporary world, it has become a kind of compulsory trend to use platforms like Facebook, Twitter etc extensively by people to frame and mould public opinion and values of culture which has the potential to transform the economic and political structure of a nation-state. The web today is like a platform for knowledge, production and creation. With all the ease and facilities that the cyberspace has brought to this era, the nations have become much dependent on information technology for their basic functioning. The soaring refinement in technology has made it an administrative apparatus.
It is apparent that as technology evolves the nations are getting more dependent on it and eventually discovering new threats and risks for the nations. States are responsible for protecting its citizens from foreign aggression and also for maintaining peace and security within it. This gives rise to a relationship between the state and the citizens. The citizens thus, depend on the state for their security and the state controls its citizen to a considerable extent. The changing dynamics of the world, however, at several points of the time do expand the infrastructural power of the state. At such points, the citizens have to choose between freedom and security. Hence, maintaining a balance between security and innovation is one of the greatest challenges for the nations of the world today.
Globalization has increased the anxiety of the states and made it apprehensive like never before in an apparent borderless world. It is at constant risk owing to its existence in a networked platform. Scepticism is yet another aspect which has encouraged the states to tighten their boundaries suspecting their neighbors. A sense of uncertainty and unpredictability has overpowered the states. The cyber threat is the most modern kind of threat to nations today. It can be skillfully carried out by computer experts without the victim’s rarest of knowledge of the place, time, process and the reason behind such attacks. Hence, cyber threats challenge the traditional notions of time, space, context and attribution and the traditional approaches of surveillance. The web as such becomes a major tool used for surveilling.
As the nations have evolved over the years with the development in the field of information technology, so have the security measures of the states. The modern day states assure the security of the nation through the process of surveillance. Today, it is very usual for us to see technologies like closed circuit television (CCTV), automated teller machine (ATM), scanners and other electronic identification devises. These are used by the states today to provide a timely, concise view of relevant activities within their environment.
Surveillance is one of the most important tools used by many governments all over the world to ensure national security. Of late, this has been adopted as a compulsory technique by most of the governments. Cyber Surveillance refers to the process of inspecting people and objects with the help of technologies and this process functions on the basis of data networks like the Internet. Christopher P. Diehl, in one of his articles on Surveillance, has remarked that surveillance system generally refers to the process of sensing a particular environment on a continuous basis. It objectifies the human body and identifies it as a mere code. It is the process of gathering information methodically.
Surveillance is no doubt a technical innovation and invention but the increasing reliance on technology by the government has led the governments to live the present insecurities regarding the digital threat. With the further acceleration of fear of this threat they get hooked, embrace the service and benefit that technology offers. Surveillance is one such offering of the phenomenal refinement in technology and with growing time and its advancement it has entangled with governance in many ways. The National surveillance state tries to ensure public security often instilling an unidentified fear to the rights of the citizens. Privacy has taken a beating with the emergence of the cyberspace and especially cyber-based threats. The question arises here- Are we compromising our freedom of our private life in the name of national security?
Surveillance systems reduce the free exchange of ideas between the innocent civilians making them conscious that they are being observed by others. Last year, there was a news doing the rounds that WhatsApp private messages may not be private but monitored by the government. Such news has every potential to make the common people uncomfortable and violate their fundamental individual rights. Another negative aspect is that the surveilling personnel using surveillance for investigating on certain matters can preserve the information of the individual for an indefinite time and they generally retain it even after it has served its purpose. It has all the possibilities that the information can be misused. The cases of WikiLeaks and PRISM indicate how the United States government is intercepting the communication networks (both the records of phone calls and internet communications) of millions of people illegally in the country. Cyber-snooping is so common today.
The art of “cyber-snooping” and “packet-sniffing”, as such has, reached such an acme of sophistication that nothing is hidden from curious eyes (it can be of the law enforcement community, of hostile intelligence agencies, or even terrorists and criminals). The sophistication of technology has developed to such an extent that the intelligence agency (even the counter-intelligence) can interfere into the electronic voice communications sniff into the e-mails of any suspect or the general mass. There are also technologies which allow them to match faces of people with those in a database as they pass by the existing cameras in various places. All these technologies have made it easier for the government to snoop on people easily and on the other hand, it has put people under strict and constant scrutiny observing their every step. Hence, one can say that along with the security concerns the government authorities while conducting surveillance programs should also take into consideration the social aspects of surveillance.
The entire rationale of internet surveillance twirls on the threat of cyber-terrorism which entails cyber-security through a nexus of vigilance measures. Yes, internet surveillance can definitely be used to prevent cyber attacks but it can also threaten the private sphere of one’s lives. Whatever the fact be, but it is evident that surveillance mechanisms are soaring and it emerges to be the apparent demand for security measures. The fear of our own neighbors as a terrorist and the threat of a possible sudden day terror strike are surely demanding surveillance practices.
The irony is that the internet which was created for bolstering innovations has become a threat to our lives.
Sovia Pegu is a Graduate in Political Science from Hindu College, Delhi University, and Master Degree in International Relations from JNU. She is also an M Phil from CCUS from JNU. Currently, she is working in Canara Bank.