In 2013, Reuters reported that the Snowden leaks reveal how the NSA has been giving information to a division of the DEA called the Special Operations Division. Apparently they've been using this information to convict American citizens, and then officers are given steps on how to cover up their tracks.

Then in 2015 USA Today reported about a "now-discontinued" operation in which the DEA was keeping billions of phone logs from calls made by American civilians to outside countries.

The Obama administration expanded the NSA's program a few days ago, allowing all the relevant divisions of government (DEA, FBI, CIA) to access raw content of the NSA's surveillance efforts.

Also, President Trump and the Republican-controlled Congress are expected to further expand the NSA program.

This got me thinking. Besides terrorist attacks and drug control, what are some of the benefits of mass surveillance on U.S. citizens?

  • 5
    Tons of data scientists and data center specialists have well paying jobs, contributing to lower unemployment and higher tax revenues.
    – user4012
    Jan 16, 2017 at 2:44
  • 2
    More seriously, are you asking about theoretical benefits, or practical benefits that have been proven (including proven causality)?
    – user4012
    Jan 16, 2017 at 2:45
  • 2
    @user4012 Better stick to practical. Tax revenues would definitely help an answer, if you have any stats on how much money goes into these programs. Since there are 680 DEA Intelligence Analysts around the world, employment stats would probably be good to include as well.
    – Cannabijoy
    Jan 16, 2017 at 2:58
  • 2
    The possible benefits of an overarching police state that was collecting the personal information of the populace, to include the meta data of their electronic communications, is too broad for the SE format. There are stacks of books written on efforts of Russian governments to monitor their populace. Jan 16, 2017 at 4:21
  • 6
    If you haven't read 1984 by George Orwell, I'd recommend doing so as it detailed the benefits and effects of mass surveillance.
    – Noah
    Jan 16, 2017 at 5:00

1 Answer 1


1984 by George Orwell talked exactly about this type of synario and I have quotes from the book and explanations that will answer your question about the benefits of mass surveillance.


Surveillance 1:

The Party constantly watches all citizens for any sign of rebellion or thought-crime, but tries to appear kind and concerned rather than ruthless and invasive. It adopts the protective, reassuring persona of 'Big Brother' and the slogan:

"BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU" Part 1, Section 1, pg. 3

Information Awareness Office- Wikipedia

Surveillance 2:

One of the most important ways that the Party keeps citizens under surveillance is through the telescreens. They are found in all rooms belonging to Party members, and in public places. No one knows how often the Thought Police tap into any individual wire, it is therefore possible that they watch all screens all the time. Outer Party members can dim the sound and picture coming from their telescreen, but the screen never turns off. Only senior members of the Inner Party have the power to turn off the telescreen, but can only do so for short periods of time. Very few proles have telescreens, mostly because members of the Inner Party do not feel they pose a threat. For the proles who do own one, the telescreen is an expensive item that they might buy for the entertainment value.

In addition to telescreens, the police (not the Thought Police) also have patrols of surveillance helicopters that fly around peering into people's windows.

Your Smart TV is Spying on You- Fox News

Your Smartphone is Spying on You- CNN

Surveillance 3:

The Party uses children to keep tabs on their parents. Through the Spies, children are trained to be devoted Party followers. The children are ferocious towards thought criminals and most adults over the age of thirty are afraid of their own children. Children are encouraged to eavesdrop and most weeks there is a story in the Times about a child hero who has denounced his family.

D.A.R.E. Program teaches children to narc on parents

Surveillance 4:

Winston thinks about how dangerous it is to allow your thoughts to wander when you are in public or facing the telescreen. Your facial expressions are watched closely and the wrong expression can have dire consequences. For example, looking disbelieving when a victory is announced would be facecrime.

"Your worst enemy, he reflected, was your own nervous system. At any moment the tension inside you was liable to translate itself into some visible symptom." Part 1, Section 6, pg. 64

Facial Recognition Technology is Everywhere

Surveillance 5:

The Party supervises all marriages, so as to avoid sexual desire between Party members. A committee has to approve a marriage, and they refuse permission if the couple give the impression of being attracted to each other.

Surveillance 6:

Surveillance of the proles is limited. The Thought Police track down and eliminate the few proles who seem capable of becoming dangerous to the Party.

Surveillance 7:

Even when Winston is at his desk at work, he is closely watched by the telescreen. When he finds the photograph, he must force himself to control his facial expressions and breathing. He even worries the quickness of his heartbeat will be picked up by the telescreen. When Winston was at the Chestnut Tree Café years ago and saw Jones, Aaronson and Rutherford, there was a sudden half a minute when something happened to the telescreens and they started playing a mocking piece of music, as if jeering at the three men.

Surveillance 8:

A Party member's attendance at the Community Center is carefully checked. It is dangerous to spend any significant time alone. Party members are not supposed to have any spare time, and should only be alone when sleeping.

It is dangerous for Winston to walk in the prole area. If a patrol were to see him, they would stop and question him to check his papers, perhaps even reporting it to the Thought Police.

Surveillance 9:

Winston is tempted to read the piece of paper while he is in the bathroom, but there is no place the telescreens watch closer than the toilet stalls.

Surveillance 10:

All letters sent by mail are opened and checked by the mail service. There is no such thing as private mail.

Hint: The United States Postal Service needs a warrant to search packages...UPS and FedEx do not

Surveillance 11:

In the open country there are no telescreens, obviously, but there are hidden microphones by which your voice can be picked up and recognized. Making a journey by oneself also tends to attract attention. Patrols freely hang around railway stations to check the papers of any Party members they find and interrogate them. To go a hundred kilometers or more, you need to get your passport endorsed.

Surveillance 12:

O'Brien offers to lend Winston the dictionary as a way to give him his address. Although the government keeps an eye on everyone's movements, ordinary citizens know very little about where other Party members live. There are no directories; the only way to find out where someone lives is to ask them. O'Brien develops this plan and then gives Winston his address openly, in order to avoid suspicion. He writes the address on the paper right in front of a telescreen, where anyone watching can read what he is writing.

Surveillance 13:

Winston and Julia realize that the one thing the Party cannot control is what people feel inside. The one thing they have not discovered is how to monitor what other people think. Winston thinks that within the walls of the Ministry of Love this may be different. He suspects they may use torture, drugs, or electrical instruments to record nervous reactions. They could wear people down by depriving them of sleep, solitary confinement, or interrogation. But even if they find out what you feel, they still cannot alter it.

Surveillance 14:

Winston and Julia are amazed when O'Brien, an Inner Party member, is able to turn off the telescreen. Despite this privilege, O'Brien remarks that it is still dangerous to leave it turned off for more than half an hour.

Surveillance 15:

O'Brien reveals several very sophisticated strategies that the Brotherhood uses to avoid the surveillance of the Thought Police. No member can recognize more than a few others, and any knowledge must be spread slowly. Members may die, or it may be necessary for them to become different people, with different faces. He tells them it is important to change hiding places frequently.

Surveillance 16:

The Party constantly researches new ways to find out what people are thinking - the scientist is "a mixture of psychologist and inquisitor, studying with extraordinary minuteness the meaning of facial expressions, gestures and tones of voice, and testing the truth-producing effects of drugs, shock therapy, hypnosis, and physical torture." Section 2, Part 9, pg.194

The Government's MK ULTRA already did all of this

Surveillance 17:

In the Ministry of Truth, surveillance of the prisoners is extremely close. There are four telescreens to a cell, one in every wall. The telescreens are very invasive and the voices command the prisoners harshly, making sure, for example, that Winston does not put his hands in his pockets.

Surveillance 18:

Parsons is arrested for thoughtcrime because of his little daughter. She listens at the keyhole, hears him saying, "down with Big Brother" in his sleep and runs to get a patrol. Parsons is actually proud of her for this; he was completely unconscious and unaware of doing anything of the kind, and thinks that it is terrible that he could have unknowingly harbored these evil thoughts. He says that when he goes up against the tribunal he plans to thank them for saving him before it was too late.

The telescreen yells at Winston for covering his face when Parson uses the lavatory pan in their small cell.

Surveillance 19:

Winston realizes that for seven years the Thought Police have watched his every act, word, and thought with far more subtlety than he would ever have imagined. They even replaced the whitish speck of dust on the corner of his diary so that he would not think it had been disturbed. They have soundtracks and photographs of absolutely everything he has done.

What I'm trying to get at is that governments can brainwash citizens, tell them false accusations, squash up risings, and people generally won't committ crimes if they know law enforcement and the government is watch their every move.

How the NSA's Domestic Spying Program Works

Details of Every American’s Call History

First, the government convinced the major telecommunications companies in the US, including AT&T, MCI, and Sprint, to hand over the “call-detail records” of their customers. According to an investigation by USA Today, this included “customers' names, street addresses, and other personal information.” In addition, the government received “detailed records of calls they made—across town or across the country—to family members, co-workers, business contacts and others.”

A person familiar with the matter told USA Today that the agency's goal was "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders. All of this was done without a warrant or any judicial oversight.

Real Time Access to Phone and Internet Traffic

Second, the same telecommunications companies also allowed the NSA to install sophisticated communications surveillance equipment in secret rooms at key telecommunications facilities around the country. This equipment gave the NSA unfettered access to large streams of domestic and international communications in real time—what amounted to at least 1.7 billion emails a day, according to the Washington Post. The NSA could then data mine and analyze this traffic for suspicious key words, patterns and connections. Again, all of this was done without a warrant in violation of federal law and the Constitution.

The Technology That Made It Possible

In addition to investigative reports by the New York Times and others, AT&T technician turned whistleblower Mark Klein provided EFF with eyewitness testimony and documents describing one such secret room located at AT&T’s Folsom Street facility in San Francisco, California.

It works like this: when you send an email or otherwise use the internet, the data travels from your computer, through telecommunication companies' wires and fiber optics networks, to your intended recipient. To intercept these communications, the government installed devices known as “fiber-optic splitters” in many of the main telecommunication junction points in the United States (like the AT&T facility in San Francisco). These splitters make exact copies of the data passing through them: then, one stream is directed to the government, while the other stream is directed to the intended recipients.

The Klein documents reveal the specific equipment installed at the AT&T facility and the processing power of the equipment within the secret rooms. One type of machine installed is a Narus Semantic Traffic Analyzer, a powerful tool for deep packet inspection. Narus has continually refined their capabilities and—as of the mid-2000s—each Narus machine was capable of analyzing 10 gigabits of IP packets, and 2.5 gigabits of web traffic or email, per second. It is likely even more powerful today. The Narus machine can then reconstruct the information transmitted through the network and forward the communications to a central location for storage and analysis.

In a declaration in our lawsuit, thirty-year NSA veteran William Binney estimates that “NSA installed no few than ten and possibly in excess of twenty intercept centers within the United States.” Binney also estimates NSA has collected “between 15 and 20 trillion” transactions over the past 11 years.

In April 2012, long-time national security author James Bamford reported NSA is spending $2 billion to construct a data center in a remote part of Utah to house the information it has been collecting for the past decade. “Flowing through its servers and routers and stored in near-bottomless databases,” Bamford wrote, “will be all forms of communication, including the complete contents of private emails, cell phone calls, and Google searches, as well as all sorts of personal data trails—parking receipts, travel itineraries, bookstore purchases, and other digital ‘pocket litter.’”

enter image description here https://www.eff.org/nsa-spying/how-it-works

PRISM surveillance program

  • Thank you for the answer Killer066. This seems to be mostly a summary of 1984. Perhaps if you can include some examples of how the federal government is already using these tactics. For example, spying through phone cameras and making it impossible to turn it off or remove the battery, UPS and FedEx opening mail and handing it over to authorities, and of course the government already covered Surveillance 16 with their MK ULTRA program. I'm sure you can probably find something for every Surveillance example you provided, but a few would be helpful.
    – Cannabijoy
    Jan 17, 2017 at 1:19
  • Oh I didn't down vote you by the way. I'm the only one who left a comment so I don't know why someone else did. Just wanted you to know that. Thanks again.
    – Cannabijoy
    Jan 17, 2017 at 1:54
  • 9
    I downvoted because of all the 1984 stuff. This is a serious policy analysis question and it should be answered with real analysis. Others might disagree. If you keep it, you should summarize your points into a more explanatory format, rather than have a long list of scenes.You could probably do this in a single paragraph which mentions a few key themes. Jan 17, 2017 at 16:02
  • 1
    I agree @KDog. I really like this answer, but it feels like a 1984 SparkNotes. Killer006...This has a lot of great stuff, but Surveillance 3 and 18 seem to be the same thing. 13 and 16, as well as 4 and 7, are also very similar. I think it needs to be condensed, and maybe include more references to show how federal bureaus are capable of doing basically everything written here. Some of this stuff seems too crazy to be relevant, but with a few references everyone can see that it's all completely relevant : )
    – Cannabijoy
    Jan 18, 2017 at 13:41
  • 5
    This looks like an excellent answer for some hypothetical question about how Surveillance works, but it's very poor in it's capacity to answer the OP's actual question. Way too much of it is this summary from 1984, and way too little of it gets to the point, and even then, you're being a little bit disingenuous, since you're clearly describing problems with mass surveillance, and not benefits. Jan 20, 2017 at 21:38

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