Moral Implications of Data-Mining, Key-word Searches, and Targeted Electronic Surveillance

In Bradley J. Strawser, Fritz Allhoff & Adam Henschke (eds.), Binary Bullets (2015)
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Abstract

This chapter addresses the morality of two types of national security electronic surveillance (SIGINT) programs: the analysis of communication “metadata” and dragnet searches for keywords in electronic communication. The chapter develops a standard for assessing coercive government action based on respect for the autonomy of inhabitants of liberal states and argues that both types of SIGINT can potentially meet this standard. That said, the collection of metadata creates opportunities for abuse of power, and so judgments about the trustworthiness and competence of the government engaging in the collection must be made in order to decide whether metadata collection is justified in a particular state. Further, the moral standard proposed has a reflexive element justifying adversary states’ intelligence collection against one another. Therefore, high-tech forms of SIGINT can only be justified at the cost of justifying cruder versions of signals intelligence collection practiced by a state’s less-advanced adversaries.

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Michael Skerker
United States Naval Academy

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