Government Surveillance: Protection vs. Privacy

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According to NATO, North American Treaty Organization, the three duties of a government are, to Protect, Preserve, and Provide for the nation that it governs. However it is not all so simple, in order to protect the country, it has to be on guard, watching for threats and dealing with them accordingly. In my reading of the following texts my ideas concerning governments using their power to fulfill their duty to protect while also maintaining the privacy of the people. Waiting for the Barbarians, written by J.M. Coetzee, focuses on a nameless empire, which at the furthest reaches of its borders has the seemingly benign threat of barbarian attack. Following that is “In the Penal Colony” by Franz Kafka, looks at a penal society which has recently undergone change in authority where the new commandant doesn’t share the same values as the old commandant when it comes to the judicial system of the colony. Switching from using power to surveillance, “Panopticism” by Michel Foucault, who takes the classic design of Jeremy Bentham’s panopticon, and exploits all of its useful characteristics ranging from schools and hospitals, to factories and prisons. In a modern look at Betntham’s panopticon, “Visible Man” by Peter Singer looks at the panopticon and at modern data gathering technologies in order to discuss how more data can save lives, but impedes on the privacy that people expect nowadays. In an article “The effect of the USA Patriot Act on Workplace Privacy”, by Clare Sproule looks at the privacy in the post 9/11 workplace where she discuss’ how the Patriot Act allows for more surveillance and how the surveillance is taking place. These five texts show the struggles between government’s use of power to protect its citizens through the elimination and surveillance of viable threats.

Throughout history we can see all different types of governments and what they did for their countries. They all had different ways of doing the same things. In Waiting for the Barbarians, the empire had its own plan. This is a more extreme perspective on the idea of protection versus privacy. We are not given many details of what time period it is, who the barbarians are, what the empire represents, but we are instead looking over the shoulder of the magistrate of a town on the edge of the empires border. The town has been in contact with the “barbarians” for trading purposes, but when Colonel Joll and the Third Bureau arrives, things change. They fear an attack is looming and the only way to prevent it is by capturing who they presume is the threat and trying to squeeze out any information that they hold. Thinking to himself the magistrate says “I know somewhat too much; and from this knowledge, once one has been infected, there seems to be no recovering.” (Coetzee 21). The magistrate never fully agrees with what the third bureau does, he knows what most don’t, and he cannot forget what he know. When winter hits and the attack is yet to come people begin to realize that they are worse off than they were before. The third bureau has left the town ransacked and the barbarians are probably angrier at the empire than before. Another story, “In the Penal Colony”, also takes place in a nameless empire and has a tendency of death.

Kafka’s story, “In the Penal Colony” follows an explorer on his voyage to a penal colony which has recently changed leaders. Under the rule of the old commandant, executions were a frequent occurrence, and the machine used to preform them was cutting edge. However under the new commandant, the apparatus is in an advanced state of disrepair, and the executions are coming to an end. An explorer arrives purely as an observer, and talks to the officer is in charge of the apparatus; “‘No,’ said the explorer, wiping his forehead, "then he can't know whether his defense was effective?" ‘He has had no chance of putting up a defense,’ said the officer” (Kafka 12). The judicial system of the colony is not as forgiving as in the...
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