Should engineers provide private information of their clients to the government?

Group 56

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.

Figure 2 Number of casualties due to terrorism worldwide between 2006 and 2017.

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.

19 thoughts on “Should engineers provide private information of their clients to the government?

  1. This discussion has its own practise significance. After becoming engineers, we have to decide for whom we work and based on what principles.

    As is stated by the Theory of Utilitarianism, the action that produces the greatest happiness for the greatest number should be chosen. However, even the pool shows that result, citizens may have not realized the outcome of potential attacks, so they can’t weigh the benefit of privacy and safety

    Just like me, I didn’t realize the relationship between the implementation of the PRIZM plan and terrorist attacks.

    It’s good that the article provides a solution for that specific situation. Hope if I could choose to work for the government, there could be a sound system to guarantee my work correspond to moral ethics.

  2. I think engineers can provide the government with information about users, while making sure that people’s personal information is not being abused .But make sure the government uses the information only for the sake of national security and does not affect the normal life of innocent ordinary people. I appreciate this statement in the article——engineers are those who contribute to human welfare, including the values of health and safety.

  3. Generally speaking, terrorist attacks that directly threaten national security are actually very rare, and it is really undesirable for the government to completely deprive the public of their privacy for such a small probability event. Therefore, I don’t think engineers have the right or obligation to provide people’s private information to the government.

  4. I don’t think engineers should give the government information about their clients. As Snowden said, “I don’t want to live in a society that does those things. I don’t want to live in a world where everything is recorded.” The leakage of information will make people upset and nervous, and I, as an engineer, should do something correct to make clients happy and safe.

  5. The results of potential international terrorist attacks are unpredictable, but data shows that the secret implementation of the prism program over the years has indeed played an important role in international security and effectively reduced the risk of terrorist attacks.As engineers, we are a well-educated group that must shoulder our social responsibilities and take appropriate legal measures to contribute to the welfare of the majority of humanity without affecting the normal life of ordinary people.

  6. I still think technology should be independent and cautious, and in the workplace should respect others’ right and interest, especially the clients and employers, the content of this kind of highly sensitive personal information first shouldn’t actively seek any longer than necessary, even if know also should take the initiative to secrecy

  7. A modest loss of privacy to protect national security is understandable, but it remains a concern if it affects individual lives. No one wants to live a life of total surveillance like the Truman show. In addition, will this private information be used by criminals for commercial gain? Every move we make someone knows what to do next, and they may try to pursue their benefits by our doing. It will be scary.

  8. Great article with some interesting point of views.
    Lots of people believe that when it helps to save human lives, there can not be any restriction for special agencies to collect sensitive information.
    In my opinion, the government’s collection of this sensitive information is an invasion of privacy. Sometimes the use of these data is also rife with abuse. Once information is in the government’s hands, it can be shared widely and retained for years, and the rules about access and use can be changed entirely in secret without the public ever knowing.
    Moreover, I think this obtained information also attract some criminals such as hackers. Hacking attacks are sometimes difficult to effectively prevent and control. Once this information flows into the hands of hackers and is resold to lawless elements, many potential dangers will erupt. This poses a threat to public security.
    Therefore, there should be strict laws and authorities that control this data use and we have the right to know each time how our data is used. It is hard to predict how keeping personal data available for the government can backfire their citizen in the future, but it is important to take control of this now. The government should better manage the application of this data to protect the privacy of the citizens so as to maximize the interests of the citizens, that is also a part of the government’s duty.

  9. There have been some clear dilemmas on privacy vs. security regarding such surveillance network systems. It is difficult to apply Utilitarianism because it is debatable whether the consequence is good or not. On one side, the use of the system cause loss of privacy but safer place to live. On the other hand, the ban of the system will enhance privacy at the cost of higher crime rate.

    The argument of the bright side of the system could have been developed further. For example, if the government make it clear to public that they would only collect certain types of data, then the public would be likely to trust the authority, which result in a better relationship.

    It would help if how the Snowden’s whistle blowing resulted in an increased crime rate was discussed. Were there any direct relationship?

  10. Although providing private information of customers to the government violates the privacy right of customers to some extent, the effect of preventing terrorism or tracking crimes is also extremely effective. Of course, the condition of information is very important. For example, the government monitors emails containing a range of dangerous keywords before going back to check personal information. Therefore, if individuals abide by laws and regulations and do not do anything that will harm national security, even if the government obtains personal information, it will not affect their lives.

  11. “You can’t have 100 percent privacy and 100 percent convenience while being absolutely secure,” said President barack Obama.”I couldn’t agree more.In my opinion, the national security is higher than the individual’s right to privacy, and the prism program will only take measures against information that threatens national security. Ordinary people are still living in a normal state, and their private information will not be disclosed.

  12. Although information sharing is the direction of technological advancement, individuals are not willing to provide all information, because in my opinion, I feel very unsafe. For example, as mentioned in the article, terrorists will steal information. . Second, I don’t think it’s ethical. If I don’t want to, but the government forces me to enter information, it’s considered a violation of my human rights. For me, safety is the most important thing.

  13. For my part of view, after PRISM was exposed, the government is monitoring citizens’ daily life has been a well- known “secret” . Although the government insist that having private information can be a great help to make the society stable, citizens will still feel uncomfortable and distrustful. Imagine that one day you private information is leaked by government unintentionally, your daily life will be totally destroyed. Moreover, we will never know that if government said you have right to speak anything you like and you privacy are protected but recorded what we say and gathering your personally details with the help of those engineers. To prevent this happening, I think engineers should not provide private information to the government .

  14. Privacy does not need to be compromised for the sake of security, and vice versa. However, it is quite controversial for citizens being affected by this PRISM program to pursue their rights of privacy during a time that terror attacks occur at a much higher frequency than before.
    Having the rights of privacy, on the other hand, is not guaranteed or explicitly clarified by the constitution and law that it could be withheld only in the hand of of individuals. This basically undermines the opinion that surveillance of civilians’ private information is a breach of the law, which leaves a grey area for the government to implement the PRISM program.
    Nevertheless, the possibility of terror attack and the urgency of counter-terror attack is deemed to overrun personal satisfaction at most of the time. The most practical approach at the meantime is the government should introduce a third-party to insure that the private information being taken care of is only used for national security purpose and not for civil opinion control.
    This is a time when both government and civilians should cooperate and understand each other. Opening one’s information to the government does not means giving up the rights, instead, it is a kind of way to help government tackle the terrorists since a person with no intention of conducting terrorism does not need to be afraid of righteous judgment.

  15. As long as it proves that it is being monitored, people will naturally distrust the government. The disadvantages of surveillance are apparent, but the benefits are hard to express.So from an engineer’s point of view, it is not recommended to provide the government with private information about customers.

  16. In fact, many of us live in theft, road surveillance, every questionnaire you fill in, every app you are using, they have the possibility of stealing your privacy for some benefit, and espionage activities in different countries have not been a secret since ancient times, which is similar to the essence of the Prism Project. Therefore, freedom is a relative proposition. In different times, different societies have different definitions. For example, the U.S. government often accuses the Chinese government of failing to grant the people proper human rights. However, in fact, human rights in China are based on the socialist system. However, human rights in the United States are based on the capitalist system, and the differences in social systems are the root of contradictions. So, the Prism Project itself is also a product of the times. From different perspectives, different conclusions will be drawn. In ten years and twenty years, people will make different judgments on it.

  17. In my opinion,what the US government did is immoral,although it may be propitious to fight against terrorism or to do something beneficial on human welfare.Because I don’t think government collect private information of citizens only for fighting against terrorism.In fact,PRISM’s targets are not limited to the United State,but also include people in other countries.I think the US government have no right to do such thing and it will undoubtedly make damage to the interests of other countries.It is reprehensible that harming other countries’ interests in order to safeguard own country.Although the US government always did such things and nobody can stop it,It’s still reprehensible.
    As an engineer, as an individual who has be well-educated,he should have the right
    to make his own choice between providing private information to the government or not.But before that,as a responsible engineer,he must consider the problem very carefully and make the correct decision finally.As for me,I’m pessimistic about this problem.Do we really have any secrets in this age?Are there any PRISMs that still not be exposed?

  18. I believe that guaranteed safety does not exist just since the popularity of the Internet. Information disclosure is far more likely to occur than our imagination. I, an engineer, even mind sharing personal data with others, let alone the clients. Although it is necessary to improve security within services, what I want to say is that protecting private information by ourselves first is more important.

  19. “Once the United States behaves inconsistent with its values,” – this sentence and the associated discussions seems to suggest virtue ethics.

    This is an interesting article, and you’ve touched on Code of Conduct by quoting ASME and ASCE, I’d expand on that aspect in Assignment Two. Are engineers violating their codes of conduct?

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