Testing Americans’ Tolerance for Surveillance | JSTOR Daily


In essence, surveillance, broadly defined, is when we’re intentionally watched, monitored or tracked by a third party—usually for their own purposes. This sounds terrifying, and many people would be quick to say so. In theory Americans value our privacy. In practice, we’ll readily cede it for select reasons: safety being the first,
convenience being the second.

Right after 9/11, the majority of Americans were willing to cede privacy and civil liberties in the name of safety, in a state of high alert and acute fear. Having the government scan their e-mails may have seemed a small price to pay in case they detected danger in a few. (And, it is important to note, as time has passed, Americans have been less and less comfortable with infringement on their information as their sense of security re-establishes itself.)

The internet, which has become a cornerstone of many people’s daily functioning, is only technically free—to access almost any service, you need to give up your basic details. Yet, to get food delivered, have groceries delivered to their doors, do banking in their pajamas, and have entertainment and access to the sea of information at their fingertips, people seem happy to let Facebook or Google or Yahoo mine their accounts.