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Issues of Privacy and Government Hacking for Surveillance

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Human Rights
Wordcount: 2832 words Published: 23rd Sep 2019

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Technology- Government use of hacking


Problem statement

Government hacking can be known as individuals who deliberately gain (or attempt to gain) access to computer systems without permission of the person or organisation responsible for the software application, data, computer system, network or electronic device ( A Human Rights Response). Government hacking has a goal to provide a balance of national security and privacy (Chen-Yu et al. 2018). However, a methodology for identifying, assessing and resolving risks, in consultation with stakeholders needs to be considered (Wright 2012). Key concerns of government hacking include the risk for human rights such as privacy, where information can be easily gathered about us from technological devices. Other risks involved with the activity include risk of damage to the property of internet users and the financial stability of individuals or groups. (A Human Rights Response).


The role or aim of government hacking is to hack computer systems for law enforcement purposes such as terrorism or other crimes. Government hacking provides potential problems to individual human rights by accessing protected information that as a result interferes with an individual’s human right to privacy. Protected information is information that includes, reflects, arises from, or is about a person’s communications and that is not readily available and easily accessible to the general public (A Human Rights Response To Gov. Hacking). There are many federal government acts enforced to pursue government hacking that disrupt the human right to privacy. The Australian Security Intelligence Organisation (ASIO) Act 1979 initiates regular government hacking by the Australian Security Service. ASIO (1979) states that the act enables ASIO to obtain a warrant for the questioning of a person if there are reasonable grounds for believing that by doing so, it will provide benefit in tackling Australia’s counter terrorism. ASIO (1979) states that with this warrant, it allows them to intercept and examine individuals mail, surveillance devices, monitor telecommunications and access computers. The Crimes Act (1914) suggests that a federal officer has permission to access data from a computer or data storage devices for those under investigation. This act allows for measures that can overcome passwords, encryption technologies and cloud storage services. The Surveillance Devices Act (2004) permits federal officers in Australia to obtain warrants, emergency authorisations for the installation and use of surveillance devices. These surveillance devices can be specified premises, objects, conversations, activities, or locations. It allows the lawful collection of information through surveillance devices. Through this, it grants record keeping, and reporting of those with surveillance devices, to ensure that the material collected is managed securely to ensure there are no privacy intrusions. This allows the monitoring of digital devices including computers, laptops, smartphones, tablets and other electronic equipment. When law enforcement uses a computer system to hack into devices, the malware used in operations can act unpredictably, damaging hardware or software or infecting non-targets and compromising their information. Despite the government’s efforts in ensuring non-target devices are not affected, it can have an unexpected and unforeseen impact on innocent civilians. Thereby, the computer system used by the government to hack can affect individuals or groups who are in contact with a target as well as those who are unrelated. Innocent civilians who are exposed to this software damage or exposure of information, are likely to be users of shared computers or systems, such as those in a library or office. It can cause and impact devices through modifying physical systems or devices internally. A technique used to exert control on a system may be used such as inserting malware or changing the operation of the hardware of software that will inflict harm on the system. This may be completed to change a whole system. In damaging electronic devices externally, in a similar scenario, government hacks change the operation of the device such as ensuring a weapon system is not able to work effectively. Modification of data can cause physical damage by adding, deleting or modifying data on the targets electronic device. Whilst it is evidentially explored how government hacking can have an effect on the human right of privacy and one’s property, it also has evidential affect’s on the financial stability of private entities. Hacking by the government can have several financial consequences for not only a target but an innocent user. It could cause a negative financial consequence through direct changes to one’s debts or assets, loss of business or customers and loss of resources.

Issues and impacts

Individuals need privacy to freely secure themselves, their information and fully enjoy their rights. However, with the enforcement of the government acts explored previously, it can impact and cause an issue to this human right to privacy. In summing up the previous government acts previously explored, it can be acknowledged that the Australian Security Act (1979) mentions with a warrant, officers are allowed to intercept and examine suspected criminals mail, surveillance devices, telecommunications and access computers. The Crimes Act (1914), allows the access of data from an individual’s computer or data storage device, where passwords, encryption technologies and cloud storage services are no longer an advantage to the individual. Thirdly, the Surveillance Devices Act (2004) states that federal officers in Australia with a warrant can monitor the installation and use of surveillance devices of individuals or groups. All of these government acts impact the right to an individual’s privacy through encouraging feelings of discomfort by having private and disclosed information in the hands of power. This surveillance also reinforces other rights that may be impacted such as the right to remain innocent until proven guilty. This right means everyone charged with an offence has the right to be presumed innocent until proved guilty according to law in a public trial in court. Thereby, an individual has the right to obtain their private information on their computer or other electronic device without the use of government hacking which can presume ones guiltiness without any fair trial. The problem of this invasion to privacy encourages and causes other impacts such as ethical issues that stem from privacy concerns. Government hacking affects an individual’s autonomy through interfering with their freedom of choice or freedom to be let alone (Wright 2012). Government hacking also intrudes the individuals dignity through the process of body scanning, finger printing and electronic tagging (Wright 2012). Additionally, this surveillance technology does not allow the individual to give their explicit informed consent to being monitored, tracked or targeted. (Wright 2012). Many other ethical issues derived from the invasion of privacy includes the issue of responsibility and harm(Wright 2012). It can be questioned, who will be responsible in ensuring the correct procedures are undertaken in hacking an individual or groups computer or other electronic device? Will there be responsibility in regards to acknowledging if a government hacking is induly intrusive? Will this intrusiveness cause harm to the individual or group being hacked such as the psychological impacts from the consequences of having private information exposed? This surveillance technology not only encourages us to question these ethical issues, however, emphasises how there can also be ethical issues that stem from the lack of privacy. The impact of damage to one’s property can cause detrimental effects and a huge issue to the individual or group also. It can be emphasised that when you hack a system, you don’t actually know what’s going to happen’. Thereby, any damage caused to a targets device can impact their human right to property. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (2015) states that everyone has the right to own property alone and as well as in association with others. No one should be arbitrarily deprived of his/her property. Having property damaged such as an electronic device or computer system not only causes problems to the device itself, however, it also causes an impact to the individuals quality of life. If an individual or group has important documents on their damaged computer system, it could mean they are disadvantaged through losing valuable assets on their device, particularly if they own a business. Thereby, such losses not only include physical property damage but also business-interruption loss for utilities and their customers. Along with this, it can ruin the business’ reputation resulting a loss of business partners and customers also. Especially in a circumstance where there are financial consequences to government hacking, whereby, an individual can not only be impacted through their loss of business, but also the customers within the business can be impacted. In discussing the many problems that arise from government hacking, we tend to ask the question is the use of the surveillance technology necessary? Also does this technology disproportionately target certain groups? In responding to whether it is necessary, a reasonable answer would be no when keeping in mind the many problems that have risen from government hacking whilst also considering that it has been found through research, states with terrible human right records known to have purchased hacking capabilities have proven to target human rights defenders, journalists, political opponents and protestors instead of facilitating legitimate surveillance activities. With this being shared, it can be thought that this surveillance defeats the sole purpose of targeting criminals instead it is found to be used by corrupt officials. As well as this, even when government hacking use legitimate surveillance activities such as investigating criminal activity, its privacy and security implications mean governments may never be able to demonstrate that hacking as a form of surveillance is compatible with international human right laws. This continuous check on updated international human right laws is a lengthy and time-consuming process which supports the idea that it is unnecessary to have this surveillance. However, on the other hand, it can be necessary and be seen to grow in popularity in the future because of the current need to rely on a third party such as companies to access individual data which may be based in a foreign jurisdiction. It is also a time-consuming process to do this which has the possibility of not being granted approval from the company to obtain this access to the data.





From thorough discussion about the effects of government hacking, it is important to question how these problems associated should be addressed through a number of recommendations. Firstly, it is essential to consider and monitor privacy issues, however, by doing so it is a challenging task that potentially can only minimise the issue of privacy instead of overcoming it. Recommendations to try and minimise this privacy issue include:

  • Ensuring all government officials obtain a warrant to intercept and examine suspected criminals data. Implementing this action means that unless there is an adequate and appropriate reason as to why this data hacking should be made, for example a strong belief of criminal action by the individual or group. However, as previously explored, this hacking can have an effect on innocent civilians using the same system. Thereby, it is recommended that…
  • Governments encourage individuals to back up data or source this valuable data elsewhere that is crucial to the running and upkeep of certain items such as a business.

Secondly, it important to consider and monitor the damage to property from government hacking caused to innocent civilians using the same software as the suspect, or even the software of the targeted criminals. To do so, it is recommended that…

  • There are more Australian cyber security professionals through establishing Academic Centre’s of Cyber Security Excellence in Universities. By increasing the amount of professionals through increasing job opportunities, it allows for further solutions to the possible damages that could occur during a government hacking.
  • The use of Government hacking should be thoroughly considered in terms of a risk-analysis to evaluate the potential harm to the targeted device. If the risk is too high then other alternatives should be considered.

In evaluating whether the surveillance technology of government hacking should be used, from a normative perspective the serious interference of government hacking with human rights partnered with the significant risk of additional harm should strongly suggest the disapproval of government hacking. However, with the growing concerns of counter terrorism, the use of government hacking is a convenient way of tackling this issue. It could mean there isn’t a need to have people cross borders or take physical actions in the target nations. It is also a quicker process in order tackle terrorism threats fast and investigate potential harm which is a crucial element to counter terrorism. Thereby, the question comes down to whether society values safety or privacy more? Is society willing to jeopordise their privacy to have a safer society by continuing government hacking that has these risks to it? Although there is the argument of ‘nothing to hide, nothing to fear’ the right to a private life can be important to citizens. Thereby, it is essential for the right to privacy to be met before using this surveillance device. If this is not possible, prioritising safety over privacy could be the way to go for the nation.




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