The development of technology and society has seriously affected all spheres of human life, including education, transportation, personal and professional relations. One of the areas that have been most impacted is social interactions and privacy. Recent technological advancements have provided government agencies with new surveillance tools and the opportunity to watch actions of suspicious individuals. Unfortunately, they can abuse this power to track decent citizens, unethically interfering with their private life and falsifying evidence to achieve specific goals. This situation is especially topical for such developed countries as members of the European Union and the United States are constantly facing a threat of terrorist attacks and espionage. A new set of laws known as the Patriot Act has evenly deprived decent Americans of a significant part of civil rights. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze how the development of surveillance technologies and practices has affected society and the quality of life of people in the United States.
First, it is essential to review technological and social changes that have led to the increasing level of surveillance in the modern world. The invention of the Internet has resulted in the intensification of cross-cultural communication among people, especially via e-mail and social networks. At the same time, modern technological tools allow gaining inconspicuous access to private correspondence and listening to phone calls. Moreover, devices like cameras and surveillance drones give government agencies the ability to intrude in private lives of citizens by watching out for them at any place and time (“Learning to Live with the Big Brother,” 2007).
Unfortunately, technological advancements have also provided terrorists and all sorts of criminals with the ability to bring death and destruction on a massive scale by gaining access to secret government information, disrupting communication, and using biological weapons and almost undetectable firearms. With the help of these means, they committed numerous acts of terrorism during the last decades, and the most terrible one was the attack on the United States on September 11, 2001, when several hijacked airplanes hit the World Trade Center and the Pentagon. These events produced a major negative effect on the international community by increasing the level of panic and promoting the feeling of insecurity in society (Dempsey, 2002). Therefore, the government received an opportunity to tighten security measures and endow security agencies with broad powers.
Secondly, it is essential to examine how surveillance technologies affect privacy and the lives of people. According to Zinam (1989), six aspects define the quality of life, namely, military, cultural, political, economic, ecological, and social. The first element refers to the overall level of security in a country and the protection of an individual in society. One the one hand, the intensification of government control over the population has increased the military quality of life by preventing terrorist acts and crimes, and maintaining peaceful existence. On the other hand, the police and security agencies have gained broad powers that allow detaining innocent people and entering their homes by force in case of a suspicious activity (Dempsey, 2002).
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The second aspect refers to preserving cultural heritage and stimulating cross-cultural communication and tolerance in society. On the one hand, the terrorist acts of 9/11 have united the American society in the face of a new threat and promoted patriotism and the capacity for self-sacrifice. On the other hand, the United States has experienced a new wave of racism, and some ethnic and cultural groups like Arabs or Mexican and Cuban immigrants are viewed with suspicion and are often assumed being terrorists’ accomplices (Dempsey, 2002).
The political aspect refers to preserving human rights and freedoms in society. The implementation of the Patriot Act has deprived citizens of the right to privacy due to the ability of security agencies to gain access to personal correspondence, phone calls and any personal data, as well as to enter homes and to detain people without judicial authorization (Dempsey, 2002). Additionally, defending the rights of immigrants and specific cultural groups is viewed with suspicion and hostility due to a prejudice about their connections to criminals and terrorists.
The economic aspect refers to the overall level of financial well-being of all social groups. The intensification of surveillance over the population has not produced a significant impact on this area of human life. The only serious drawback of the Patriot Act is the ability of security agencies to gain access to any financial records of individuals and companies (Dempsey, 2002). Such actions can undermine business operations and may be used by corrupt officials to gain financial profits and eliminate competition.
The ecological aspect refers to preserving natural resources and providing the population with food, water, and shelter. The implementation of the Patriot Act and the intensification of surveillance have produced a positive impact on this area of human life due to specific actions taken by the government. They include storing a supply of food, water and medicine in case of emergencies and increasing the safety of storages, implementing environment protection and disease prevention programs, as well as increasing social awareness of natural disasters and terrorist acts. Such practices have become common in developed countries all over the world like Japan striving to protect the environment, maintaining sustainability, and minimizing the harmful effect of manufacturing (Yueh & Osbrink, 2007).
Finally, the implementation of the Patriot Act and the intensification of surveillance have produced a negative effect on the social aspect of life. Government security agencies have received the ability to act outside the framework of the current legislation to prevent terrorist acts (Dempsey, 2002). Additionally, such groups of citizens like people of an Arabic or Mexican descent started to suffer from racist actions and the biased attitude of the police. Therefore, such changes undermined the principles of equality in American society. Unfortunately, such problems occur in the majority of developed countries like France that has experienced a large inflow of immigrants with different cultural backgrounds (Alvarez & Mekis, n.d.).
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To conclude, surveillance technologies have made a major impact on the quality of life in the USA. On the one hand, they improved military and ecological aspects by tightening security measures and improving preparedness for emergencies. On the other hand, the implementation of the Patriot Act provided security agencies with the ability to act outside the law, infringing human rights, freedoms, and privacy, and creating social tension and inequality by stimulating racism and a biased attitude towards specific cultural groups. Therefore, surveillance technologies have caused more harm than good by decreasing cultural, political, economic and social aspects of life in the United States.