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The Effects of Surveillance on American Society

The Constitution of United States of America allows the people a lot of freedom, including the freedom of privacy. In the United States of America, the constitution lays the foundation for the act of freedom for its compatriots. Its importance can be gathered by the fact that the rights of speech and freedom appear in the First Amendment of the United States Constitution, as protects the right to freedom of religion and freedom of expression from government interference. The Court has interpreted the First Amendment as applying to the entire federal government even though it is only expressly applicable to the Congress. There is also a lot of stress on the right of privacy of the people and certain laws protect the people from police and other law-enforcing authorities from barging into their private homes and properties without any warrants.

The Supreme Court of the United States is very stern on the freedom of rights issue and it has required all the local governments to offer extensive explanations and rationalizations of intrusion of issues pertaining to the right of privacy. According to the Constitution, every American has the right to privacy and he/she is allowed to live a life without scrutiny from the outside world, as long as no illegal act is done. The police in the United States cannot eavesdrop on a person unless they have a warrant from the court. It is illegal for another person to wire-tap someone. Previously, all law enforcement agencies were required by law to file a warrant before doing any surveillance. This has all changed after the September 11th attacks and many people feel that their privacy has been taken away because of it.

This freedom has recently been found to be being violated in many cases in the United States and this is because of the USA Patriot Act of 2001. This act was signed on October 26, 2001, by President Bush. This stands for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act. This law was enacted after the September 11 attacks of 2001 in hopes of strengthening the ability of the US government to combat terrorism and prevent and detect money-laundering activities. Even though this act has been implemented to target and prevent terrorism, many employers are facing certain problems for compliance with it. Perhaps the biggest problem comes from the privacy issues as the enforcement of the Patriot Act allows the government to conduct surveillance in the workplace and many people feel that this is an infringement on their privacy. Title II of the Patriot Act has to do with the efforts related to intelligence gathering and for collecting evidence that is required for criminal enquiries. Under this Title, the government is allowed to use wiretaps and computer surveillance of the employees. The government can also access the financial, business, educational and medical records of the employees and can also permit searching the homes and offices of the employees without their knowledge or consent.

Compliance of the Patriot Act from the employers is necessary and in order to do this, new procedures must be implemented in the workplace while addressing the privacy issues of the employees and customers. This puts the employers in a very precarious position where they have to satisfy the employees and the customers and also comply with the government's requests for information. An employer that can be called a financial institution such as a bank or investment house must report all suspicious financial transactions. All the foreign employees must be kept a strict eye upon and it must be made sure that all their documents and immigration papers are in working order. It is also important to keep the workplace free from unlawful discrimination based upon race, religion, or national origin. In the recent days, many employers have been known to track the activities of their employees by the use of the Global Positioning System (GPS) placed on their cars. This has created many privacy issues. For instance, many of the employees are comfortable with their employers knowing where they are during the course of the working day but they are not appreciative of the fact that their employers are tracking them even after hours. Employees are taking this as a breach and infringement on their privacy. Whether this is legal or illegal is still a question of debate but the fact remains that GPS tracking is growing steadily in the United States. More and more employers are using GPS as the prices for using such equipment have been dropping regularly. Many employers feel that it is very reliable and many employers do not feel that it is a breach of their employees' privacy as it is a 'receive only' system and only tells them where the employee is at a certain time. The employees, however, feel that they have a right to their privacy and the employers should not be allowed to know when and where they go.

Many employers argue that they use GPS in order to measure their employees' performance. For example, GPS allows the companies to make sure that their trucks/cars are following the prescribed routes etc. This is all fine during the working hours. Some employers have also installed GPS on the personal cars of the employees since they use their personal cars for business purposes as well. The problem begins when the companies continue to monitor the cars after the working hours are over. This has caused some concern amongst the employees as they feel that they are being watched unnecessarily. Many employees are also taking this as a breach of their privacy. Such employees are not happy as they do not want their employers to be aware of their every move.

We can safely say that a certain kind of a balancing scale has been in place ever since the September 11th attacks. People need to understand that there is a certain amount of give-and take situation brewing as far as intelligence gathering via surveillance and the privacy issues are concerned. We must realize that it would be a grave mistake to check executive authority too much. Congress has to make sure that the government does not have any hindrances in protecting national security and to prevent any such terrorist attacks (such as the September 11th attacks) to happen again. So, in the context of electronic surveillance, it may be possible to both protect national security and provide greater protection for privacy than currently exists.


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