Being Watched by Jeffrey L Vagle

Being Watched by Jeffrey L VagleBeing Watched: Legal Challenges to Government Surveillance by Jeffrey L Vagle
Published by New York University Press on December 5th 2017
Genres: Politics
Pages: 170
Format: Ebook
Source: NetGalley

A riveting history of the Supreme Court decision that set the legal precedent for citizen challenges to government surveillance The tension between national security and civil rights is nowhere more evident than in the fight over government domestic surveillance. Governments must be able to collect information at some level, but surveillance has become increasingly controversial due to its more egregious uses and abuses, which tips the balance toward increased--and sometimes total--government control.This struggle came to forefront in the early 1970s, after decades of abuses by U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies were revealed to the public, prompting both legislation and lawsuits challenging the constitutionality of these programs. As the plaintiffs in these lawsuits discovered, however, bringing legal challenges to secret government surveillance programs in federal courts faces a formidable obstacle in the principle that limits court access only to those who have standing, meaning they can show actual or imminent injury--a significant problem when evidence of the challenged program is secret. In Being Watched, Jeffrey L. Vagle draws on the legacy of the 1972 Supreme Court decision in Laird v. Tatum to tell the fascinating and disturbing story of jurisprudence related to the issue of standing in citizen challenges to government surveillance in the United States. It examines the facts of surveillance cases and the reasoning of the courts who heard them, and considers whether the obstacle of standing to surveillance challenges in U.S. courts can ever be overcome. Vagle journeys through a history of military domestic surveillance, tensions between the three branches of government, the powers of the presidency in times of war, and the power of individual citizens in the ongoing quest for the elusive freedom-organization balance. The history brings to light the remarkable number of similarities among the contexts in which government surveillance thrives, including overzealous military and intelligent agencies and an ideologically fractured Supreme Court. More broadly, Being Watched looks at our democratic system of government and its ability to remain healthy and intact during times of national crisis. A compelling history of a Supreme Court decision and its far-reaching consequences, Being Watched is essential reading for anyone seeking to understand the legal justifications for--and objections to--surveillance.

The concept of privacy in the modern world is an interesting one. People casually give away great swaths of personal information to large corporations in return for useful apps and games, but for most people, the idea that their government is spying on them is – at the very least – disturbing. What is interesting is that in recent years the concept of the government casually invading everyone’s privacy has been normalised in the name of national security, and as the bar shifts, many people’s ideas of what is acceptable has also shifted.

Being watched is a history of the extensive legal challenges throughout the past century to the encroachment of government surveillance – particularly in the form of the National Security Agency – into the private lives of citizens.

I must admit that while I find the subject matter both fascinating and disturbing, I found this book to be a very dry tale. I had initially overlooked the fact that it was focused on the legal side of things, and was expecting more of a history of, or modern look at government surveillance.

There are certainly other books out there who cover this sort of material, although this was one of the more indepth looks at what it does focus on. I found this book kind of depressing, which is my reaction to most of the way the world has gone in recent years.

This is probably one for those with a serious interest in the topic, as it is not written for general consumption.

I received a review copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Rating Report
Overall: four-stars

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