Using data doubles & function creeps to explain police databases

When it comes to the privacy of individuals, it is a very touchy topic because people want to be able to go about their daily lives without worrying if anyone is spying or monitoring their activities. The government plays a large role when it comes to the privacy of citizens through surveillance, CCTV cameras, personal identity records etc. Many say that this is an invasion of their privacy and should be outlawed but the government responds by saying that it is essential for the safety and security of all citizens. The Toronto Star news corporation did an investigation on the police to see whether they are recording appropriate and relevant information in their Canadian Police Information Centre (CPIC) databases. After a lengthy analysis, they found out that in Canada, around 420,000 individuals’ names and other personal information are in police databases even though they have never been convicted of a crime in their life. Although these individuals have never been convicted of a crime, their names appear in the databases for other reasons such as mental illnesses and being charged with a crime; essentially any personal information given to the police during any sort of interaction with them remains in their system regardless of the significance of the incident. It seems unfair to record this information of a person because it attaches a label to them and judges a person’s entire character based on this information. For example, many places require a criminal record check to see if individuals have a clean background; the information in the police databases shows that they are ‘dangerous’ based on crimes that they have never been convicted for; they might not even be posed as a threat at all in fact (The Toronto Star, 2014).

The Toronto Star mentioned a lady named Diane who was wrongly accused of assault on her ex-spouse; as a result, she had great difficulty trying to keep her job as a counsellor, because of a false accusation against her, when a background check was required for her. Although it was a withdrawn assault charge, it still remained in the police database and judged her to be a person who committed crime in the past even though she had done nothing. She finally had her charge removed from the police database after many unsuccessful appeal attempts; unfortunately, many other people remain on the police databases even though they aren’t deemed a threat to society. The CPIC was initially developed to only record personal information of individuals with criminal charges or convictions but now it is being used to store personal information of anyone that interacts with the police, even if they don’t have any charges or convictions against them. Individuals with criminal charges and convictions would usually have the charges removed after a certain period of time but now it is almost impossible to have any sort of information from the CPIC removed, making it very difficult and frustrating for individuals with no criminal past. Some Criminologists say that it’s not necessary to maintain non-convicted records because it is irrelevant and the purpose of the police databases is to only record important information that deems individuals a threat based on convictions (The Toronto Star, 2014).

Haggerty and Ericson discuss the notion of data doubles and function creeps to explain why any piece of information of a person is kept in the police databases regardless of it being irrelevant. Every person has a data double which is a profile of their ‘digital footmarks’ left in electronic information. The data doubles are used by the government and other places to differentiate between categories of individuals for marketing and institutional agenda purposes. For instance, data doubles are used for monitoring individuals known to be a threat or causing civil disobedience in society. Function creeps are another surveillance technique in which it is a process where information gathering procedures are justified and approved for a particular application and are being used for purposes that were not initially designed for. Function creeps is used by the police to ‘leak’ or relay vital information about individuals in the database to places that deal with them in order to assess and evaluate their level of threat. These function creeps may cause problems because they are only designed for a single purpose in which new surveillance techniques can be found in a system that was not originally created for that specific purpose; then again they may be beneficial but it is hard to predict the uses for them in the future (Haggerty & Ericson, 2006).

According to the Toronto Star investigation, the need to record personal information in the CPIC databases is to ensure the safety and security of the public and the police themselves when dealing with individuals on the job. This information is also being recorded into databases for the purpose of data doubles so that the police can easily access it according to the categories that individuals are placed in, when assessing and responding to a situation. These data doubles indicate a reliable prediction towards the assessment and discretion that should be made by police officers towards various individuals with criminal charges and convictions; this is said to simply be in the best interests of the police and the public while looking out for their safety by taking appropriate actions. Furthermore, function creeping will permit the police to use the information in the databases for other purposes than it was originally intended for, in the future; this could be very useful and vital information to have in hand in an emergency situation and whatnot. Critics argue that the CPIC databases are a form of government surveillance and that it is an invasion of people’s privacy because individuals’ personal information is stored in the system and impossible to remove even if they haven’t even committed a crime. All of this personal information stored in databases, along with the concepts of data doubles and function creeping, could potentially mean the difference between effectively and efficiently handling a situation or letting another crime occur when it could have been prevented through these security measures.


Haggerty, K. D., & Ericson, R. V. (2006). The New Politics of Surveillance and Visibility. In R.V. Ericson & K. D. Haggerty (Eds.), The new politics of surveillance and visibility (pp. 3–25). Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Robert Cribb, Jim Rankin, & Andrew Bailey. (2014, May 25). 420,000 in police database never convicted: Analysis. The Toronto Star. Retrieved from


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Food for Thought: Law, Society, and Access to Information

Our final class focused on the socio-legal dimensions of secrecy and access to information.

I have three final ‘food for thought’ questions. You may choose to compose a post in response to one of these questions.

Food for thought:

Option 1: Locate and briefly discuss one call for the reform of Canada’s Access to Information Act. This could take the form of a government report, an NGO report, a media article, or an academic article. Drawing on one or more socio-legal theories, explain why the federal government has not reformed the ATIA in response to this call. For example, you could reflect on the functions of ATI/FOI laws, the relationship secrecy and bureaucracy, the ideology of Access, or the relationship between ATI/FOI and sovereign power.

Option 2: ATI/FOI mechanisms recognize and facilitate a legal right to access public records. It is – by definition – lawful to file an ATI/FOI request. However, some students, when first introduced to the topic of ATI/FOI, have expressed a concern that filing a request might ‘put them on the radar’ or identify them as ‘people to watch out for’. They have noted that this is of particular concern to those who plan to seek employment within government (ex. as police officers). Drawing on one or more socio-legal theories, comment on this concern. Explain the ‘theory of law’ (and of the state) that may inform such a concern.

Option 3: Comack (2006) explains the functionalist, liberal-pluralist, and Marxist perspectives on the Official Version of Law. Drawing on her analysis, and on your knowledge of socio-legal theory, provide an overview of how ATI/FOI laws might be explained by functionalists, liberal-pluralists, and Marxists.

Posts prepared in response to one of these questions must be submitted before the end of the day on Saturday Dec. 7.

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Terrorism and the State of Exception

In response to an act of terrorism, governments must respond accordingly and act in approval of its citizens while the criteria for legality need not be required. In response to terrorism, governments must incorporate the safety and lives of their citizens so that purpose of taking or holding of their legal rights can be meet with a proper understanding from the countries leader in that government. For the purpose of having things done without going through political questioning, governments can freely impose their will without being challenged.

While an overbearing concern of terrorism can deter the Canadian government’s ability to question, it is whether or not the time and effort into passing a quick and rough bill into Parliament to attempt to pass the bill is worth it. Threats and questionable acts of terrorism over the presumption that it could possible become more prominent, is a framework that can be effective in times of political and social duress. For instances, a “design of an emergency regime may well be the best available defense against a panic-driven cycle of permanent destruction” (Ackerman 2004; 1030). What Ackerman is suggesting is that the use of a quick, reactionary government over parliamentary decision making is best used to tackle terrorism because emergences are needed to be dealt with swiftly therefore there is a need to disregard Parliament’s argumentative approach for instances of actually terrorism. To avoid the time-heavy and nuisance of having party members in Parliament to agree and redraft on a suggested bill that can make it easy to have individual’s liberties be withheld while being time consuming. Not only does it free up time but it can also relieve Parliamentary scrutiny by not having members of Parliament enacting their potential powers to veto a suggested bill that would do the same as a State of Emergency call. Enforcing dominancy from governments to enact State of Emergency can send the message that the reasons for using the Emergencies Act is reasonable over fighting for of against a bill.

For the members of the public that receiving the news that their government has declared a state of emergency for the purpose of eliminating terrorism can provide for conflicting views. Individuals in society can see this enactment of a state of emergence as something that shows the government being tough on terrorism. This message of taking a stance on terrorism does not only boost the morale between governments and their citizens, it can also give the notion that the government intended to protect their citizens by the apprehension of a suspected groups of other people that may be in connection to terror plots or organizations.

On the other hand, there will always be someone in the public who would think and respond differently to the enactment of a state of emergency. Taking the view that the overall goal of a government when implementing an act of emergency is to withhold individual rights and freedoms as they can be free in detaining or searching people’s houses without using the proper form of getting warrants from a judge is a concern. There can also be a case that the federal government has been looking into two or three groups that may be involved with international crimes overseas, such a terrorism, but have little to no evidence to approve of a warrant could be of interest to pull the state of exception rule into society on order to work around such stifling techniques.

Governments that are able to introduce bills are those sovereignties that demand a democratic approach prior to initiating an increase to security and police serveses that could be viewed as supporting ‘totalitarian’ ideals (Pavlich 2011). Although rushed, it is understandable how governments look to the Parliament or Senate prior to deciding whether or not it is a good idea to put their act into fruition. Governments that are able to hold a debate on the reasons for a state of emergency are to be well admired as they are following how democratic society should come together as one to answer the question of rather than jumping to it right away.

The public, in witnessing of a bill suggesting for a state of emergency, can listen in and make their own decision on what they think should occur. Having debates in Parliament not only opens the floor to those wanting to speak on terrorism, it is also allows for an honest discussion about the rules around state of emergences and how they can be effective. As the public hears more and more about the bill, they would be able better connect with the reasons for the increased police power and be able to reflect on how this can effect society as a whole in all kind of ways, good or bad or neutral.

In today’s demographic, it makes more sense for a government to create a bill to increase police and security services. By doing so, the government does not have the right to remove everyone’s freedom and liberties for a short period of time. Introducing higher powers for police services can also be used a deterrence factor that makes the possibility of terrorist attack even lower. As more responsibilities are handed to police and security services, the public can become more reciprocal and attentive to police out on the field.

The third option here is to not act at all. With Governments not enforcing a bill or considering the calling for a State of Emergency, they are leaving the issue with police to follow the laws already imposed on society from the Parliament of Canada. From this, a government can wait until another act occurs or that the government will promote the idea of working together with law enforcement to end terrorism, while not actually implementing a state of emergency or strength the service of police and security. Although terrorism has approached the level of publicity that sees acts of terror as being something seriously affecting the rest of Canada, it would be improbable for governments to take this third option due to the scrutiny received from Canadian citizens. Much like sovereigns who are petty in nature, these sole entities would become disconnected and oblivious to the real issues at hand (Pavlich 2014). The issue around terrorism should be meet with a high standard as there needs to be an act done in order to resolve public worry and show government re-actions. And this high standard can come from bills or the initiation of a State of Emergency in most cases.


Ackerman, B. (2014). The Emergency Constitution. The Yale Law Journal. 113 (5). 1029-1091.

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law and Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.

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Data Doubles; The Good and The Bad

During one week in today’s world of technology, someone can rack up a rather lengthy data double. Though what do I mean by this data double. A data double is where a person can be traced or even watched by what they do an online. It is like leaving an online footprint. These footprints can be taken place and left in many different forms and ways. If you were to look back and trace your steps through your week to which you have left a digital trace, you would be surprised how much of your life is now based online and who difficult it is now to disappear. A one-week ‘snapshot’ of my data double would look something like the following; daily text messages, emails and phone calls, logging into Facebook, credit, debt and gas card purchases, signing into Netflix, 8tracks and YouTube, logging onto the school computers and myKwantlen, logging onto workplace computers and using a personal passcode to enter certain areas at work, taking pictures that have time stamps attached to them, using GPS or other various navigation devices, Google searches, and entering stores or other places that have a surveillance system.

With these data doubles popping up everywhere, it is still surprising that we still manage to have or find a little bit of privacy. It seems as though that the majority of our lives are now recorded on some sort of digital format whether we want it or not. These digital trails do have some importance or can come handy when dealing with a lost person case, theft, robbery, abuse and much more. These digital trails do help and bring awareness to cases where they would normally go unnoticed, either do to because the area is unsupervised or information and incidents can be hidden through bribery and money. Through these digital trails can helpful and important to make aware of incidents such as the one that happened in August when the CEO of the catering company Centerplate Desmond Hague was seen kicking a dog in an elevator in Downtown Vancouver (taken from CTV News). The video can be seen from Global News on their YouTube page ( It is incidents like this that we like to see our surveillance working and it is ending abuse and identifying the person who is doing it. However, lets flip the this idea as to how it is helpful to society to make people known for their crimes. How can all of these data doubles go against a person, what are they effects of being easily traced down.

With all of these trails that we are leaving behind about our lives, it is very easy to figure out where you were and perhaps were you are going. The issue with this is that since our lives are broadcasted over a digital system, it is almost impossible to hide from someone to whom you might be running away from. In order to completely disappear you would have to stop using all sorts of digital data to try to eliminate the possible threats that may come your way. These data doubles that people are leaving make it that much it easier for a unwanted person to find them, whether or not they are hiding from them or if they even know they are being watched.

However, when it comes to a person’s professional life, these data doubles can be crucial as to whether or not they will receive a job or not. The data doubles that usually pause a person’s progress in a certain career path is those found of social media pages and found surveillance tapes. What you post on your Facebook page or on YouTube could have serious repercussions for you later. As many careers paths, for instances careers within the Criminal Justice System, are now searching through peoples Facebook pages and looking at who they are connecting with, what they are doing during their social time, what they are commenting on and how they are commenting and other various reasons that could halt a person’s progress for a certain career path. These agencies are requesting new recruits or candidates to sign waivers for the agency to have the right and privilege to search for information that could ultimately remove them as a candidate as mentioned by Kevin Johnston form USA Today. Yes, one could try to erase and delete some of their traces but unfortunately these data doubles will still up digital until we have found a way to which we use a new system to retrieve information, which makes the old system almost impossible to read, an example of this is finding devices that can still read floppy disk drives.

CEO caught kicking dog in elevator resigns from his job. (2014, September 2). CTV News Vancouver. Retrieved on December 2 from

Global News. (August 26, 2014). Elevator video shows man abusing dog. [Video file]. Retrieved December 2 from

Johnson, Kevin. (December 11, 2010). Police recruits screened for digital dirt on Facebook, etc. USA Today. Retrieved on December 2 from

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Surveillance, and Corporate Canada

Canada is a close ally to the United States. Canada often follows America’s lead, and unfortunately spying is one of those area’s Canada has followed along with America. The first of this came out with Edward Snowden, who revealed to the world that Canada had been involved in a very serious spying campaign against Brazil. Brazils mining corporations and projects were being watched closely by Canada. While this is likely a reflection of Canada spying on behalf of corporations (Ismi, 2013), there is another
factor to this. The NSA has been involved in a very elaborate campaign of surveillance on its own citizens for several years now. In fact they have been accused by Alexis Ohanion, founder of Reddit of engaging in a surveillance campaign whose main goal is
“collect everything.” This is regardless of who it is, how dangerous they are perceived to be. Canada’s NSA equivalent, the CSEC appears to be involved in a similar campaign against its citizens. For one thing, according to Ismi, the CSEC has had close relations
with the NSA for at least six decades. The two have been constantly sharing information on each other’s citizens (Ismi 2013). What Snowden has leaked is a reflection of corporate espionage, but it doesn’t end there. The Harper government has been a huge
proponent in the extraction of natural resources in Canada, and one of its major positions are with such projects as Enbridge’s pipeline for the coast of British Columbia. Recently it became public knowledge that the Harper government wished to “monitor”
protests in Canada, anywhere in Canada, regardless of what the meaning of the protests were. This made clear the Harper governments position on spying. If the CSEC was able to spy for the purposes of corporate espionage in Brazil, surely for the sake of
Enbridge and its pipeline, the CSEC would be “monitoring” not only the protests taking place regarding the pipeline, but also “monitoring” those involved in the protests. A Brazilian journalist who had contacts with Snowden says that the leaked documents
indicate that the NSA and the CSEC are engaged in “insidious hacking” of corporate, foreign, and private computer accounts (Ismi, 2013). If this is the case, Canada, which has been considered around the world as a leader in human rights and civil liberties, is in severe violation of her own citizens, and even foreign governments. The Brazilian government expressed outrage at Canada’s transgressions against its sovereignty, and its corporate interests, however Greenwald suggests that Brazil “was only the tip of the
iceberg,” meaning Canada has been engaged in this activity for a very long time now (Ismi, 2013). The claim that Canada has sacrificed a huge piece of itself to spy on its citizens in a post 9-11 world does not do this situation justice. Unfortunately, because of the Harper governments advocacy for resource development, this government has decided that the CSEC should not concentrate on domestic terror surveillance, but rather surveillance of groups protesting resource projects in Canada. The surveillance
campaign has nothing to do with protecting Canada, or national security. The whole campaign is in the interest of corporate Canada, and such incidences, like the one which occurred on parliament hill are simply a smoke screen, a way to legitimize some of its spying. Canada is not spying on her own citizens in the interests and security of our nation, rather in the interests and convenience of corporate Canada.

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Analysis of the Munk Debates


The issue of state surveillance has been a hot topic in the past few years, and with the Munk Debate on “State Surveillance” more fuel has been added to the argument whether to support or ax the current surveillance regime. Since

Snowden, living in Russia with temporary asylum, last year leaked documents he collected while working for the NSA… The disclosures have sparked a debate over how much leeway to give the U.S. government in gathering information to protect Americans from terrorism, and have prompted numerous lawsuits. (Reuters, 2014)

Due to the debate there have been considerable differences in between individuals on whether what the government is doing is right or not. So therefore it is natural to focus on the Munk debates (munkdebates, 2014), where there are individuals arguing for pro-surveillance and con-surveillance.

Summary of Arguments

Professor Alan Dershowitz and General Michael Hayden argued for the continual support of the surveillance regime. Alan Dershowitz argues that in regards to surveillance if it was properly conducted, it would inherently protect our liberties from future infringements by the state as a reaction to another event such as 9/11 (munkdebates, 2014). Currently Professor Dershowitz claims that the surveillance technology is still a developing technology therefore to cancel it would be giving the enemy an advantage, because they do not face any constraints. However to proceed with the use of this developing technology, one must realize that it is a preventative measure, therefore there must always be an over-prediction, so the net that is cast does not miss any danger. While Dershowitz acknowledges that there are situations where civil liberties are violated, to proceed in the future with this new found method of preventative intelligence is with extreme caution and must be accountable and balanced on whether the bigger desire is to stop attacks or increase privacy.

While Professor Alan Dershowitz generally talked about the usefulness of surveillance and why there should continual support for state surveillance, General Michael Hayden took another approach. Rather than talking about surveillance generally, Hayden made reference actual programs that the NSA, claiming that some of the facts out there on NSA surveillance is blown way out of proportion and tried to anchor the crowd in reality (munkdebates, 2014). General Hayden claims that the NSA is not doing anything that it is not allowed to do, and that some of the claims presented by the other parties are on the possibilities of the NSA’s power but not on the actuality of what the NSA does. Hayden goes on to state that the arguments published against NSA on the Prison Program among many other programs, which allows them access to Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo, are usually segmented and do not include the whole story. Furthermore in reality, NSA only collects .00004% of global internet traffic, which every other country does but they are the only ones singled out. In reaction to stopping 9/11 and the recent Boston Marathon Bombings, Hayden responded that it was due to the limitations of not being able to monitor Americans that they were unable to stop it with state surveillance, however NSA only uses that other major companies such as Google collects.

On the other side of the argument, is technology entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian, and journalist Glenn Greenwald. Entrepreneur Alexis Ohanian focuses on the costs to economic and technological aspects associated with the continuation of the surveillance state (munkdebates, 2014). With technological industries losing up to $180 billion due to hesitation from consumers signing up because of fear of being tracked has caused significant losses to the economy. However the main argument that Ohanian forwards is the fact that the ability for NSA to set up surveillance of internet usage is through the use of a loophole or flaw. This loophole or flaw which Ohanian identified pollutes the network and threatens security. Therefore instead of exploiting the flaw, Ohanian claims that the NSA should spend efforts on increasing the security of the internet therefore other malicious individuals or groups are unable to use the same flaw to exploit the public. Moreover Ohanian states that the internet is a medium for people live and explore and that monitoring the internet disproportionately affects innocent people with no due process, therefore the question should not be whether they can but on whether they should establish a surveillance state.

Glenn Greenwald argues that the NSA has been lying to the public for a very long time, and that the officials are skilled liars. The state surveillance mantra is “collect it all, snip it all, know it all, process it all, and exploit it all” and that state surveillance actually entails indiscriminate suspicion less surveillance contrary to what General Hayden was saying (munkdebates, 2014). Stating that terrorism has less fatalities than some diseases across the world, Greenwald claims that term terrorism has been used as a pretext for many of the inhumane acts that the United States have committed. However there have been no documented cases where meta-analysis or the collection of bulk data has actually stopped terrorism. Furthermore Greenwald argues that the collection of bulk data is more pervasive to individuals than focusing the surveillance on certain aspects of their life. Therefore Greenwald is rejected the surveillance state because of what it is now, and not what it could potentially be, as well as he argues that whichever methods protected us from the Soviets during the Cold war should be sufficient to protect us from terrorists hiding in caves.


Both sides portray a very compelling argument and there should be merits awarded to both sides. However from my personal perspective, based off of what they have said, it is not sufficient enough to formulate a solid opinion yet. Rather I would argue that from Michael Hayden’s and Glenn Greenwald’s argument, that the evidence they both have is contrast to each other. Therefore until the evidence from both sides are up for public display then is one able to fully formulate an opinion on the subject rather than base it off the words of another. However I would agree with both Alan Dershowitz and Alexis Ohanian because they both offer quite practical arguments. It seems that Alan Dershowitz believes surveillance is inevitable, therefore stuff can be done to make a bad situation better, which translates to oversight and accountability. Which I would agree is a plausible action to take if the surveillance state is inevitable in this day and age. Furthermore Alexis Ohanian claims that by allowing the flaw to exist in the network and using it as a tool for surveillance jeopardizes the security of everyone. I would have to agree with Alexis Ohanian that by allowing this flaw to exist not only are we susceptible to state surveillance but surveillance from all sorts of parties capable of exploiting the flaw. Therefore it would be vital for the government to fix the flaw, and if surveillance was absolutely necessary to pursue traditional methods such as recommended by Alan Dershowitz to go about accomplishing that task.

Works Cited

munkdebates. (2014, May 2). State Surveillance. Retrieved from MUNK Debates:

Reuters, T. (2014, Janurary 2). Edward Snowden NSA leak: NY Times, Guardian call for clemency. Retrieved from CBC News World:



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The Munk Debate: State Surveillance in the 21st Century

In May of 2014, a Munk Debate took place at the Roy Thompson Hall in Toronto regarding state surveillance in the 21st century. Michael Hayden, a retired four star general who served as the director of the CIA, and Alan Dershowitz, a professor of law at Harvard, suggested that democracies are justified in using mass state surveillance in order “to fight complex and unconventional threats” (Munkdebates, 2014). Glenn Greenwald, a journalist and columnist for First Look Media, and Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of reddit, on the other hand, argued that these surveillance programs and the power they generate from information technology jeopardizes our basic freedoms (Munkdebates, 2014).


Michael Hayden began by asking the question if there is a legitimate defense to our freedoms. He stated that the answer to this question is that it depends on facts, and “the totality of the circumstances in which we find ourselves” (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation, 2014). He continued by painting a picture of the current state of surveillance, and argued that the descriptions of state surveillance methods are unclear and hard to comprehend. Indeed, most individuals are provided with a current snapshot without any information on what happened before (how these programs developed), information which may in fact provide a different interpretation if examined carefully. As a result, one must take the time to analyze these surveillance programs and recognize the need for them. According to Hayden, surveillance systems are imperative in preserving national security.

Drawing parallels to these remarks, Alan Dershowitz suggested that surveillance, when used properly, could actually protect our civil liberties. He noted that “no state has survived without surveillance and no state deserves to survive with too much surveillance on their citizens” (CBC, 2014). Dershowitz argued that there are varying degrees of surveillance, and that there is a clear difference between street cameras and hidden microphones in your home. For these reasons, he suggested that when it comes to surveillance, matters of degree matter. Interestingly, much of Dershowitz’s statements called for a reformulation of the current state of surveillance, one that imposes constraints in order to strike the balance between the need for protective intelligence and the need for protection against privacy.


It was clear that the opposition had a number of questions regarding this last point. Alexis Ohanian argued that the right to privacy is fundamental to who we are, and that it must be balanced proportionately with security. According to Ohanian, it is the surveillance state that goes at odds with these rights – and it’s unacceptable. The country faces economical threats, technological threats, and threats surrounding security. He stated that technology backing the internet has been threatened in the name of counter terrorism, thanks to the NSA who has “[collected] information from millions of citizens” (Regan, 2014: 32). Instead of increasing security, Ohanian argued these surveillance programs only make the system less secure. He concluded that “while the internet must be defended, it must not be done at the cost of our security” (CBC, 2014).

Finally, but no less important, Glenn Greenwald argued that there would be no debate if surveillance programs were being used only to survey those who pose a national security risk. As a result, Greenwald believes that these programs have nothing to do with counter terrorism measures. It is not a “limited system of focus” like his opponents suggest. He argues that the best way to describe the NSA and its mandate is through its aggressive boasting. The new NSA collection posture, for example, states that they will “collect it all, sniff it all, know it all, process it all, [and] exploit it all” (CBC, 2014). Greenwald concludes that entire populations who are guilty of nothing are having their communications monitored for no reason whatsoever, and this surveillance is a profound violation of the rights of Americans.


Having initially thought that current surveillance programs were too intrusive, my thoughts began to change after reading an article by Johnny Yoo in the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy, which examined the legality of NSA surveillance of phone metadata (call billing records) and electronic communications data (email interception). Notably, Yoo states that while critics suggest that NSA surveillance “is too broad because ninety-nine percent of calls are unconnected to terrorism” (2014: 908), it is justified because finding a ‘needle in a haystack’ requires searching “millions of potentially innocent connections, communications, and links” (2014: 908). In rebuttal to this point, Greenwald and Ohanion would likely respond by arguing that Yoo is using terrorism as a pretext to justify the surveillance of millions of citizens, and that the collection of this information is not “relevant to a terrorism investigation” (Yoo, 2014: 911). However, as evident from the article, FISC (The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court) rejects these kinds of arguments because the NSA database has to be broad enough to intercept terrorist calls. Additionally, while Greenwald and Ohanion suggest that terrorism is just a pretext, we cannot deny that terrorism is prominent in the 21st century and poses a threat to national security.

In terms of violating constitutional privacy rights, the NSA programs need to be examined further. Yoo argues that the collection of phone metadata has the least number of difficulties regarding privacy. This is because a number of court cases have affirmed that “calling information, such as the phone number dialed, [is] beyond Fourth Amendment protection because the consumer [has] voluntarily turned over the information to a third party for connection and billing purposes” (Yoo, 2014: 916). Moreover, we must note that Fourth Amendment protection applies only to the content of communication, which the NSA is prohibited from accessing. Yoo also states that the second NSA program, which collects electronic communication data, is limited to the interception of non-US persons communicating outside of the United States (evident by s.702 of FISA), and the Fourth Amendment does not apply to these individuals.

While I would like to have a concrete opinion on the matter, I believe that a more thorough investigation of the programs is necessary. This post only touches the tip of an iceberg in a sea of state surveillance literature. As evident by Yoo’s article, the NSA programs seem relatively harmless on paper. What I would ask is whether or not the NSA is abusing their power and screening the content of the data in question. Additionally, in terms of the surveillance of email accounts, the NSA claims that they are solely monitoring the communication between non-US citizens communicating outside of the country – but is this true? Indeed, all of the speakers at the Munk Debate had a number of facts to back up their claims, but I would like to authenticate these facts before commenting further.

Note: I found it particularly interesting that General Michael Hayden made a statement in his closing remarks regarding Glenn Greenwald’s facts, and that if they were true, he would vote against the motion too.

Sources Cited

Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. (2014). State Surveillance: The Munk Debate. Retrieved from

Munkdebates. (2014). State Surveillance. Retrieved from

Regan, L. (2014). Electronic Communications Surveillance. Monthly Review: An Independent Socialist Magazine, 66(3), 32-42.

Yoo, J. (2014). The Legality Of The National Security Agency’s Bulk Data Surveillance Programs. Harvard Journal Of Law & Public Policy, 37(3), 901-930.

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