Government Surveillance and Accountability: Agency Roles to Limit Surveillance and Promote Bureaucratic Accountability


More Americas today disapprove than approve of the government program that obtained telephone call logs and Internet communication records.  What in fact becomes one’s take of the recent disclosures of two classified U.S. surveillance programs?  Most Americans disapprove of the government collecting the phone numbers of ordinary Americans, but approve of its monitoring those suspected of terrorist activity.  Seventy-five percent of Americans approve of federal agencies collecting the phone records of people the government suspects of terrorist activity, but a 58 percent majority disapproves of their type of data collection in the case of ordinary Americans.[1]  Majorities of Republicans and independents oppose the government collecting phone records of ordinary Americans; Democrats are divided.  So the question becomes, is the government intruding into places they should go? 

I believe that the exposure of internet and telephone monitoring is more than just a reminder than a revelation to things like terrorism. We need to better understand what government cooperation means for allied forces both in the sharing of sensitive information classification of data if leaks gone too far, by too far I mean abroad.  Is a traitor really a traitor like members of the House of Representatives would remind us or is pro-democracy activism the reason for narrowing freedoms?  There I also this tricky slope for Americans because surveillance by the likes of the N.S.A. quickly becomes comparable to Chinese cyber spying. Much like a propaganda war, the fact is that won’t matter.  When surveillance laws were revised in 2012, Congress expressed great concerns that without proper oversight intelligence agencies would agree in the sort of monitoring that has been uncovered in recent year.  Congress put a number of safeguards in place, but rejected others that would have guarantee more public discussion about what the National Security Agency or NSA does. We find that there have been several senators who have said that they feel more comfortable about the programs after briefings end, like Nebraska Senator Mike Johanna of Nebraska, who expressed deep concerns.  But then he says that he has greater confidence in the checks and balances round the programs, the oversight. 

The Snowden leaks have reopened the post-911 debate about privacy concerns versus heightened measure to protect against terrorist attacks, and led the NSA to ask the Justice Department to conduct a criminal investigation into the leaks. PRISM, allows the NSA and FBI to tap directly into nine Internet companies to gather all Internet usage through audio, video, photographs, emails and searches.  The last seven presidents have introduced different regulatory oversight mechanisms with varying degrees of success.  In 1071, President Nixon established a Quality of Life Review of selected regulations, under which the OMB required agencies issuing regulations affecting health, safety, and the environment to coordinate their activities.  President Ford formalized and broadened the review process in Executive Order 11821, which required that agencies prepare economic impact analyses for OMB review for rules whose annual impact typically exceeded $100 million.  In 1978 President Carter issues Executive Order 12044, which required detailed regulatory analyses of proposed rule-makings and review by the Executive Office of the President.  In addition, it established two interagency groups which is what I believe needs to be done with the Snowman controversy.

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As we may recall, Edward Joseph Snowman is a leaker in a relatively low-level employee capacity of a giant government contractor in Booz Allen Hamilton. This Regulatory Analysis Review Group, comprised of representatives from the Executive Office of the President and regulatory agencies, can examine a limited number of the most severe, proposed regulations expected to have substantial regulatory impact.  Promoting bureaucratic accountability in data use and limiting governmental surveillance of the population is at the heart of the functions of data protection agencies.  More importantly, this is an issue of accountability that is critical, because civil servants seek data on individuals to design and evaluate programs, to augment their prestige/power, and, as a product of a supposed technological imperative, to enable them to use the latest hardware and software programs.

Finally, bureaucrats are thus a major source of government initiatives in information collection, because of the standard delusion that more data will solve problems.  This act of accountability means that bureaucrats must, in one way or another, answer to the data protection agency when making decisions about information collection and use.  It is interesting to note that while the Snowman case raises this question of: does allowing the U.S. government to intimidate the people with threats of retaliation for revealing wrongdoings as contrary to the public interest permeate into declassification of details in all attacks of conspiracy and terror.  Perhaps the strongest means that agencies have for protecting the privacy of citizens is to limit governments’ abilities to oversee individuals though the collection, storage, transfer, or use of data about them.  We will continue to find that although surveillance cannot always be limited directly, data protection agencies can promote bureaucratic accountability, that is, bureaucrats can and will be forced to answer to a higher order, to the public, when making decisions about the collection and usage of their data.

[1] Gallup Politics.  Americans Disapprove of Government Surveillance Programs. Frank Newport. 12, June 2013.


 The Guest Column is our readers' opportunity to write about a given issue or topic in an in-depth and educational manner.

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