Computer Ethics Regarding The NSA

I stumbled upon two articles today when searching for a controversy relating to the field of computer science. Both of these articles were written in 2006, and both of them disagree with one another on the ethics regarding the NSA’s collection of domestic information. While the article against NSA’s methods of surveillance is more related to computer ethics, I should mention that the former director of the NSA, Michael V. Hayden, gives a defense of the NSA’s function in our domestic society pertaining more to political science rather than computer ethics in computer science. Professor Anita Ramasastry is the author of the article titled “The Recent Revelation About the NSA’s Access to Our Phone Records: The Laws that Were Probably Broken, and the Likely Consequences”, which argues against the NSA’s behavior that was disclosed in 2006. In her article, Professor Ramasastry focuses primarily upon the secret compilation of civilian phone records into the NSA’s database. While acknowledging that it is supported by some because of the potential terror- related hazards it might prevent, she still argues that it may conflict with a previous piece of legislation known as the Stored Communications Act. Professor Ramasastry then continues on to describe the possible consequences for the NSA if these have been broken, which essentially allow civilians affected by this to sue according to Ramasastry.

On the other hand, Michael Hayden defends the actions of the NSA in his speech titled “What American Intelligence & Especially The Nsa Have Been Doing To Defend The Nation“. The basic context here is that the information revealing the NSA’s operations has just been leaked, and Mr. Hayden is explaining what the NSA really is and why they’re doing what they’re doing. His most consistent argument he points to is the NSA’s necessity due to events such as the 9/11 attacks. He seems to place an emphasis on pathos- which is common when addressing a public crowd. Mr. Hayden also attempts to appeal to ethos by mentioning executive order 12333, which was implemented in the year 1981 in order to maintain oversight on the NSA according to

Essentially, what you have on Professor Ramasastry’s side is individuals concerned that the NSA may be doing more than they’re allowed to, coupled with a  sense of anxiety toward the ambiguity displayed outwardly from the NSA in this scenario. On the other hand, there are those who believe that the NSA is a necessary force that must be kept secret in order to keep the country safe from domestic attacks as well as maintaining competitive military power with the rest of the world. Some may believe this is veering towards the realm of political science, but I think in this case it’s more of a crossover between the field of Law as well as Computer Science. Since computer technology is involved in carrying out NSA activity, computer ethics come into play here- which, according to google, is defined as “Practical philosophy which deals with how computing professionals should make decisions regarding professional and social conduct”.


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