Terrorism: Surveillance versus Fundamental Rights

Essay, 2013

5 Pages, Grade: 1,3


In the year 1949 George Orwell published his science fiction novel ‘1984’, which deals with the futuristic idea of a totalitarian monitored society in 1984. During the years surveillance all over the world has increased. Especially after the attacks of 9/11 the demand of safety and security is bigger than ever. Safety can only be reached by surveillance, according to several governments. It is disturbing that not even Orwell imagined the dimensions surveillance possibilities have reached today.

It is no secret anymore that whenever a computer is used, traces are left behind. Nevertheless, the question remains what happens with all the information. Already in the early nineteen-nineties, the NSA founded a digital surveillance centre in cooperation with Great Britain, Canada, Australia and New Zeeland, called Echelon.[1] In retrospect, it seems that the needed efforts for surveillance at that time were quite involved. Nowadays it is easier than ever thanks to the careless conduct of many internet users. Especially Social Networks like Facebook offer new and simpler possibilities to feed the systems with information, which intelligence services only need to pick up. In 2013, Facebook was blamed to cooperate with the CIA. Even though Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, disclaimed this accusation[2], the CIA has not given any statement yet. However, today it is obvious that the CIA, together with the NSA, operates a further development of Echelon, called PRISM. In the context of the current PRISM-scandal, the NSA is now forced to partly disclose their activities which they attempt to justify by hinting at several terrorism attacks having been averted. However, this scandal highlights again how surveillance operates, mostly without the knowledge of users and on shaky legal grounds. Since 9/11 legal initiatives have been justified by war on terror. Fundamental and individual rights have been macerated in order to increase the security of the population. The price which has to be paid for ‘Big Brother’ is high.

Most constitution’s guarantee personal rights of freedom (e.g. the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany in §2 (1).[3]). Freedom, however, is a very broad term. Even in the unplugged world, surveillance is everywhere. Particularly in urban areas, which may appear as high potential terroristic targets, cameras are everywhere. Certainly, this may give a certain impression of security, and, at least, most of these systems are not hidden. But what is with the surveillance we can’t see? In the 21st century, surveillance goes far beyond basic visual, optical and acoustic monitoring. Every electronic device, no matter if it is a mobile phone, credit card, or a simple RFID-chipped parcel with a book you ordered, generates new information without the user’s and customer’s knowledge. The critical question is, whether this hidden collection of information is reconcilable with personal rights? “I believe that surveillance or control, which takes place without the knowledge of the monitored person, is incompatible with a free and democratic society. A democracy lives as civil and not as surveilled society. [SIC]”[4] according to Regina Ammicht Quinn, representative in faculty ethnics and culture at the university of Tübingen and member of the German Committee of General Security.[5] In addition to the national constitutions, the European Union as a whole proclaims additional freedom rights and the right of presumption of innocence[6].This shows again a further ethnic dilemma. Monitoring the whole population might imply that every human is under suspicion until the contrary is proved, and not the other way around as article 48 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union[7] stipulates.


[1] (Duncan Campbell, 2007)

[2] (Anon., 2013)

[3] Original wording: „Jeder hat das Recht auf die freie Entfaltung seiner Persönlichkeit, soweit er nicht die Rechte anderer verletzt und nicht gegen die verfassungsmäßige Ordnung oder das Sittengesetz verstößt.“

[4] (Überwacht? Mit Sicherheit!, 2012)

[5] (Eberhads Karls Universität Tübingen, 2013)

[6] Charter of fundamental Rights of the European Union, Article 48

[7] Original wording: Presumption of innocence and right of defence

1.Everyone who has been charged shall be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law.
2.Respect for the rights of the defence of anyone who has been charged shall be guaranteed.

Excerpt out of 5 pages


Terrorism: Surveillance versus Fundamental Rights
Anhalt University of Applied Sciences
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ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
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terrorism, surveillance, fundamental, rights
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Marcelo Anton (Author), 2013, Terrorism: Surveillance versus Fundamental Rights, Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/233121


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