News Story of the Week (1/7/06)

Comments on “Electronic eye grows wider in Britain” by Mary Jordan and “Report rebuts Bush on spying” by Carol D. Leonning, both from the Washington Post

Two of the top stories from the Post this Saturday deal with spy tacticts utilized by the U.S. and Britain and provide an interesting contrast in terms of how these surveilance methods are perceived. The U.S.’s warrantless eavesdropping on phone conversations, recently found to conflict with existing law according to a report from the Congressional Research Service, has become a hot issue among U.S. citizens and politicians. What I find interesting is the reaction in the article on the big brother-like spying done in Britain. The article focuses on the success on closed circuit tv systems to aid in catching criminals in the “most-watched nation in the world.” It should be noted, however, that these two examples of spying have some differences: one is legal, while the other’s legality is highly questionable; one is done in which citizens are meant to be aware of the surveilance, the other when the citizen is not meant to be aware. Despite these differences, the contrast in the attitude towards two acts that are fundamentally related begs many questions. Would we (in the U.S.) be more accepting of surveilance if it were a more public type? What gains has the U.s. made with spying that have lead to public safety? To what extent is spying acceptable? How much of our privacy are citizens willing to negotiate with their government in return for protection from terrorists? Can we be assured that surveilance and spying will only be used to further the means of counter-terrosim? We shouldn’t be mislead in thinking that Britain and its citizens have no qualms about surveilance, but we should look to their compartive success in surveilance, with their key difference being the awareness of the public in their participation.

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