Surveillance and Ethics

Surveillance and Ethics

The way technology affects human life continues to be a subject of strong debate. From the viewpoint of surveillance technology, the two sides of the debate focus on the aspects of increased security on one hand and intrusion of privacy on the other hand (Cayford & Pieters, 2018). Whilst it is true that technological capabilities have taken surveillance to higher levels, it is equally true that these advances raise serious ethical issues given that in today’s society, most human actions can be observed, recorded, and traced remotely. Without doubt, this infringes on people’s privacy and autonomy, besides creating the impression of lack of trust between the entity doing the surveillance and the person under surveillance.

In light of the above considerations, the opinion taken in this essay is that citizens should be allowed to decide which tools will be used for surveillance. Similarly, citizens should decide when and where surveillance technology should be installed or implemented. This opinion is informed by the principle of consent, which is a key consideration when trying to justify surveillance (Macnish, n.d.). However, there are some instances in which the government has the discretion regarding which surveillance tools to use and against whom. With terrorism and insecurity being serious concerns worldwide, the principle of consent may not be upheld at all times. In such instances, decisions on the surveillance tools to use and against whom should be based on the doctrine of maximizing the greater good and safeguarding the safety of communities rather than a few individuals. This is to say where it is established or suspected that upholding individual consent puts a community or state under threat, the government has the mandate to decide which tools to use for surveillance.


Cayford, M., & Pieters, W. (2018). The effectiveness of surveillance technology: What intelligence officials are saying. The Information Society34(2), 88-103.

Macnish, K. (n.d.). Surveillance ethics.

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