Watchdogs Under Watch: Media in the Age of Cyber Surveillance

Electronic surveillance—of e-mail communications, telephone calls, visits to websites, online shopping, and even the physical whereabouts of individuals- is now pervasive the world over. This has enormous implications for privacy and for freedom of expression and association on the one hand and for national security and law enforcement on the other. Striking the right balance between these fundamental human rights and the need for governments to protect their citizens presents a daunting challenge for policy makers, civil society, news media, and, in the end, just about everybody.

For developing countries and those in the media development community, revelations beginning in 2013 about the extent of government surveillance of communications raise serious problems.

Some would argue that surveillance by Western governments that preach the gospel of free media smacks of hypocrisy and gives authoritarian governments cover to engage in similar action. Government surveillance makes it particularly difficult for civil society and media-support groups to do their work, especially where media institutions are weak and where freedom of expression is not ingrained in the local culture but rather is seen as a foreign concept. It especially damages Western government programs aimed at promoting Internet freedom worldwide.