Saturday, October 13, 2012
Should the Government Be Able to Use Social Media for Surveillance?
Social media is used by millions of people daily. While these outlets are on the internet, some level of privacy is expected when a person uses them to update a status, tweet or post pictures. After all, there are privacy settings to limit who can see each post and if you can limit which family members are viewing why can’t you limit what the government is seeing? Donte Jamar Sims, a 21 year old from Charlotte, North Carolina was one of many social media users who used twitter to express his personal feelings. CNN reported that on September 3, 2012 Sims used twitter to make death threats to President Obama. Soon after posting, the Secret Service came to his house and arrested him. Sims is now facing felony charges for his death tweets to the President.
Social media is used to express an individual’s thoughts or feelings in real time. Allowing the government to monitor and limit thoughts made on these sites infringes on people’s privacy and their right to free speech. While Sims statements are extreme, it becomes a question of what else the government can legally monitor and take legal action against a person for posting. People should not have to worry about the phrasing of each and every statement made on social media sites to prevent the government from knocking on their door.
Sims’ case also brings up the question of whether tweeting a statement provides enough evidence to arrest someone. Social media accounts are not the most secure websites. Most people use these sites for personal reasons and have limited information supplied on them. Weak passwords or allowing others access either purposely or accidentally by not logging out of a shared computer are more frequent because there is no financial information stored on the site. Social media accounts can be created using fake information or supplying partial information, so arresting a person based on a single statement raises concerns that people may pose as others to post statements.
People are willing to give up some level of privacy to ensure safety. Balancing the intrusion into our personal lives and the safety each person expects is difficult with the internet. People want to post their thoughts and often do not think too much about the impact of their words but they also want to be protected from people making extreme statements like Sims because they fear something might be done if these statements are ignored.
The desire to be protected from extreme statements that may hurt someone means that people need to give up some level of privacy so that the government can monitor for these statements. While most people will not make these extreme statements on social media, it is possible someone will pose as another and make some statement. A line still needs to be drawn so that each individual’s safety and freedom of speech is protected when using social media but that is easier said than done. Determining which statements should be monitored, which words will be flagged and what will have the secret service show up on your front door is not easily done. There needs to be some monitoring but the government also needs to check that a person is not arrested or confronted for statements made by another person. For most social media users, having the government flag words will not affect them in any way. It would be a minimal intrusion into people’s daily lives if there was an intrusion at all.
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