We have all heard the sci-fi horror stories and we know the routine by now. The government is listening. Big brother is watching your every move. And just as the dystopian nightmare that was described in George Orwell’s 1984 becomes more and more a part of our everyday lives, it begs the question – what exactly are ‘they’ gaining from monitoring us.

From the headquarters in Fort Meade, Maryland, the National Security Agency works away all day and all night surveying the information of the web. They do this under the notion that they are gathering data to counter terrorist’s attacks and to preempt any possible threats. This of course makes sense. In a post 9/11 America its fair to say that the country has a reason to be paranoid. The disaster that occurred that day shattered several generation’s perceptions of the world and the repercussions and aftermath continue to today.

So, does this justify the methods and the cost of this service?

The methods of course are constantly evolving and are becoming ever more intrusive and opaque. The information that was leaked by Edward Snowden shows that this and other government agencies do indeed have and use the capabilities to spy on citizens. Immediately the cost of ‘safety’ skyrockets as nobody who lives in western society is safe from a gaze that can see almost everywhere and almost everything. Laptops, phones, tablets, and CCTV cameras around the United States and across the globe make up a network of covert comrades that assist surveillance with ease. We buy these devices to better connect to our loved ones and to optimise our busy lives, at no point to we consent in writing to being scrutinised. This is where the problem lies, we have become a part of something that we never signed up for, but there is no way to opt out now.

Unlike the recent emergence of data protection policies that have allowed users who land on web pages to opt out from leaving fingerprints for advertisers to exploit, the front facing camera on your phone does not come with a ‘stop spying’ section in the settings. Why then is this allowed to continue? Is it not unlawful in the first place? We have all seen the typical police show where they think they have the criminals but need some hard evidence, and for some reason they aren’t permitted to wiretap a building. Thus, their hard work goes to waste and they have to find another avenue to proceed down to prove the bad guys are in fact doing bad things. This entire scenario showcases how monitoring persons who are unaware breaches privacy, and even the privacy of some atypical scumbag is something worth looking after. Through this lens we are all sub-scum. What’s stranger is that, if the NSA did have a lead on a suspected terrorist group, passing the information forward through the correct channels would grant them the ability to wiretap these threats. So, if they can legitimately monitor suspected terrorists with some paperwork, why are they looking at all of us? And what are they really looking for?