Big Data and Privacy

by Malte Granderath, Steven Abreu, Regina Velazquez, Matius Chairani

What does Surveillance mean?

The official definition of surveillance is:

“close watch kept over someone or something”

Nowadays surveillance is often closely related to the internet. Many people know that the national security agencies will do anything to protect the citizens. With the increasing use of social media and the collection of large amounts of data this means that personal data is accessible a lot easier than before the modern age.

PRISM Project

PRISM is a surveillance program under which the United States National Security Agency (NSA) collects data of internet transmission from more than 9 US internet companies. It was a secret program till 2013 when a whistleblower informed the media.


As we can see from the above figure, some of the most popular internet services had to give their collected information to the NSA. For many internet users, Google is their main hub when opening their web browsers.

If requested the providers have to give out:

  • E-mails
  • Chats
  • Videos
  • Photos
  • Stored data
  • VoIP
  • File transfers
  • Logins etc.
  • Special Requests

The United States actually surveil more than just US citizens since more than 70% of the world’s internet transmission travel through US servers.

Public Safety

Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA)


Is a public safety system that allows owners of certain smartphones to receive geographically targeted messages about imminent threats.

Can have the following reasons for issuing:

  • Presidential Alerts
  • Imminent Threats – includes severe man-made and natural disaster where a threat to life or property exists. For example tornadoes or shooting.
  • AMBER Alerts – help law enforcement to search for and locate a kidnapped child

Chicago Long Term Evolution (LTE)


Is a public safety program that allows first responders to see the recordings of up to 25,000 cameras in Chicago, as well as crime mapping and sensors. It was funded by Homeland Security and was tested for 12 weeks. 

Many people were concerned with privacy since this allowed the police to look at any live camera all throughout the city. People were concerned about what could happen when someone would abuse this system.

Data Protection

Right to be Forgotten



6 thoughts on “Big Data and Privacy

  1. As a question, I’m just curious, how are Wireless Emergency Alerts considered a violation of citizens’ privacy? As far as I am aware, the Alerts are simply sent to all devices in a certain geographic area with no other knowledge of the device owner’s personal information or data. That is to say that when these alerts occur, data is only being sent to users, not collected. Therefore it would not be a violation of privacy. If I am wrong however, please feel free to correct me.


    1. They are not considered as a violation of a citizens privacy but since this is a summary and WEA was covered in class we included it here. Thank you for noticing though !


    2. You are right, it appears like they do not collect information. You might however still argue that by forcing cell phone users to receive the information (they actually do not (or only partially) have the right to not be informed). As a libertarian you might consider this a violation of your rights and state that you have the right of risking you life in case of emergencies whenever you feel to do so. Apart from this very hypothetical and theoretical question, it only remains the concern of how exactly this system is implemented and whether the actual implementation might introduce additional vulnerabilities into the system (which most people would probably not care about, but some might).


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