The dangers of surveillance: It's bad, but why?

April 1, 2013 by Jessica Martin

( —Surveillance is everywhere, from street corner cameras to the subject of books and movies. "We talk a lot about why surveillance is bad, but we don't really know why," says Neil Richards, JD, privacy law expert and professor of law at Washington University in St. Louis. "We only have a vague intuition about it, which is why courts don't protect it. We know we don't like it, and that it has something to do with privacy, but beyond that, the details can be fuzzy."

Richards says that there are two real dangers of surveillance.

"It menaces our intellectual privacy and it gives the watcher a power advantage over the watched, which can be used for blackmail, persuasion, or ," he says.

Richards' new article on the topic, "The Danger of Surveillance," will be published in the next issue of the Harvard Law Review.

Richards says that there are four principles that U.S. law should embody to avoid the dangers of surveillance:

"First, we must recognize that surveillance transcends the public-private divide," he says.

"Even if we are ultimately more concerned with government surveillance, any solution must grapple with the complex relationships between government and corporate watchers.

"Second, we must recognize that secret surveillance is illegitimate, and prohibit the creation of any domestic surveillance programs whose existence is secret.

"Third, we should recognize that total surveillance is illegitimate and reject the idea that it is acceptable for the government to record all without authorization.

"Fourth, we must recognize that surveillance is harmful and should be considered as such in the courts."

News of the article's publication has been trending on Twitter. You can read the complete article at:

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3 / 5 (4) Apr 01, 2013
You know how they say that if you're not doing anything wrong you don't need privacy? What if your boss is having an affair, the local sheriff uses surveillance at the motel to find out and blackmails him. Now the sheriff's nephew gets the promotion you might have gotten. You had nothing to hide; you did nothing wrong. Now replay the scenario with a politician, an important client or anyone with any influence on your life. Still think privacy is only the concern of people who misbehave?
2.3 / 5 (3) Apr 01, 2013
Also, lots of things people can learn about you have nothing to do with morality but can damage you anyway. If you live in a community with political views quite different from yours you might not want every sentence you say being made both public and prominent. Soon everyone is keeping silent and merging with the majority to avoid trouble and the world becomes an echo chamber.
1 / 5 (1) Apr 02, 2013
Information can be misused only if some had it and others don't.
If information is freely available nobody cannot be blackmailed, they just get caught. If you have political (or any) opinion you want it to be known (if it is not illegal of course). It is also rather stupid to get friends with contradicting opinions, it is called spaying actually.

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