This article seeks to explain the harms of government surveillance. Drawing on law, history, literature, and the work of scholars in the emerging interdisciplinary field of “surveillance studies,” the article offers an account of what those harms are and why they matter. The article moves beyond the vagueness of current theories of surveillance to articulate a more coherent understanding and a more workable approach. At the level of theory, the paper explains why and when surveillance is particularly dangerous and when it is not. At a practical level, it proposes a set of four principles that should guide the future development of surveillance law, allowing for a more appropriate balance between the costs and benefits of government surveillance.
© Harvard Law Review, 2013