Countries and media responded immediately when PRISM was exposed. The most concern is mass surveillance circumvents our right to personal data control. No one wants to be Truman. However, the United State keeps on collecting citizen information and uses it. As President Obama told the crowd, “I think it’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 per cent privacy and zero inconvenience”. The state has improved the efficiency of case handling, such as terrorism prevention, by acquiring and analyzing citizens’ personal information. think about it, after becoming engineers of the Internet giant, should we provide the private information of citizen to the government under the banner of national security?
It is against Privacy protection and Human Welfare!
As the U.S. government clarified in its defending, the aim of the PRISM project is to improve the safety of the country, and it did bring benefits to the US. However, it may not be operated in the right way. The privacy right for individuals is that citizen should be able to decide what information about himself can be communicated to others. Obviously, PRISM didn’t carry out that obligation. As American programming engineers, they have role responsibilities to be obedient to their companies and government. However, part of these behaviors are against Human welfare and should be limited by their moral responsibilities.
Human welfare, as stated by the American Society of Mechanical Engineering (ASME) and of the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), “Engineers should fully consider the enhancement of human welfare with their knowledge and skills”. Welfare includes values of freedom and equality. The existence of the Fourth, Fifth and Sixth Amendments to the US Constitution also indirectly confirms these values. Once the United States behaves inconsistent with its values, even though such behaviour is in the national interest of the United States, people in these countries will feel at a loss. The case that The US National Security Agency (NSA)’s large-scale interception of public calls was ruled “illegal” Litigated by US Federal Second Circuit Court of Appeals in New York also confirms it. To judge the morality of someone’s privacy is collected and analyzed by others, from the ethical point of view of Kantianism, imagining privacy of everyone is sneaked into, there will be no privacy in such a world.
A poll in Times shows that less than half (48%) of Americans approve of the surveillance programs and over half (54%) believed the leaker, Edward Snowden, did a “good thing” in releasing information about the government programs. The result reveals that the Prism plan is not recognized by the public. Theory of Utilitarianism indicates that the action that produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number should be chosen. It brings more pain than happiness, therefore violates Utilitarianism theory and is immoral.
From the above points, PRISM is unconstitutional with massive blanket surveillance, and can’t significantly improve the life quality of citizens. In that case, PRISM seems more like a trouble maker even sacrificing human welfare. For the perspectives of virtue ethics, As engineers, we should be educated into properly ambitious and being righteously indignant in the face of evil. So in the PRISM project, It is unreasonable for engineers to conduct controversial operations by the demand of their companies or government.
Look on the bright side…
Tracing back to 2001, the “9.11” terrorist attack slammed the entire United States. For the US government, the biggest shock is that the terrorists who planned the attack came to the United States in a legal capacity, learned to fly, used ordinary telephones and ordinary Internet e-mail to contact, and finally successfully organized and implemented the terrorist attack. PRISM is such a plan that effectively lessen the risk of terrorist attack by monitoring personal information.
As is shown above, the death caused by worldwide terrorism activities decreased between 2007 and 2012. This coincided with years of secret implementation of the PRISM. After Snowden exposed the PRISM to the media in 2013, there was an alarming increase in death due to terrorist activities, which means the PRISM has indeed played a significant role in international security.
Act Utilitarianism theory also provides a moral criterion which states that a person’s act is morally right if and only if it produces the best possible results in that specific situation. As Bentham calls ‘pleasure and pain the sovereign masters of man’. It is arbitrary to judge whether the prism plan brings the most happiness by only voting results because the outcome of potential terrorist attacks is unforeseeable. However, considering the decrease of death as the consequence, pain is avoided and the best result achieved. Therefore, the gathering of information is judged as moral behaviour.
Besides, based on the idea that engineers are those who contribute to human welfare which includes the value of health and safety. As engineers, we have reasons to help the government gathering these data.
Pay less for safety
When expressing their concerns about online privacy leakage, what people worried about is their online communications, interests and identification being known by others. As a matter of fact, This kind of offence can be reduced by appropriate processing steps and clear conduct code. To be specific, considering the aim of government is to monitor those e-mails containing a string of dangerous keywords and software is designed for this purpose.
On one hand, the software is able to roughly filters the e-mail and then, the filtered e-mails are checked manually by the authorized institution. The individual identity information associated with the e-mail can only be obtained when the authorized person confirms that the content of these emails may endanger the national security.
On the other hand, if the related institution has clearly established and announced their codes that set out the conditions and obligations of their members regarding the collection, use and disclosure of personal information. This plan could be morally accepted by the public.
Generally, as engineers, we won’t provide personal data to the government under the current circumstances.