After the occurrence of the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush signed a law, the PATRIOT Act. The PATRIOT Act made it easier for the law enforcement officials to use certain techniques such as wiretapping and other surveillance technologies to aid in the war against terrorism. The reason why this topic needs to be addressed is located in the following quote: “The probability that people are terrorists given that NSA’s system of surveillance identifies them as terrorists is only p=0.2308, which is far from one and well below flipping a coin. NSA’s [National Security Agency’s] domestic monitoring of everyone’s email and phone calls is useless for finding terrorists”(Rudmin, Alston P29). Many people argue that the government has gone too far with allowing violations of the Bill of Rights in the name of protecting the country from terrorists. Although some people argue that the government should use all means to fight against terrorism, the government should not be engaged in the surveillance of their citizens in the interests of national security because people expect privacy in their communications, travel and personal records and activities.
Some people argue that the government should use all means to fight against terrorism. Alexander Hamilton, one of our nation’s founding fathers, believed that the government needed to have a free hand in protecting the people. “The power to protect the nation ought to exist without limitation, it is impossible to foresee or define the extend and variety of national exigencies, or the correspondent extent and variety of the means which may be necessary to satisfy them” (Yoo P7). Hamilton believed that the presidents power to protect the nation as commander in chief should not be limited. Many people and even parts of the government have adopted a slogan meant to ease worries over surveillance. “If you’ve got nothing to hide, you’ve got nothing to fear” (Solove P4). The intent of this is that you should not be afraid of the government examining every aspect of your life if you have done nothing wrong in the first place. The arguments presented to support unlimited government powers of surveillance lend themselves to the end justifying any means.
Many believe the best way to fight terrorism is to monitor everything passing through communications channels regardless of the source or destination. “The best way to find an al Qaeda operative is to look at all email, text and phone traffic between Afghanistan and Pakistan and the U.S. This might involve the filtering of innocent traffic, just as roadblocks and airport screenings do” (Yoo P5). In 2008, The United States Senate determined to do just that. The Protect America Act (PAA) expanded upon the FISA Act of 1978 (Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act) to allow more flexibility in monitoring internal communication for intelligence purposes. The Protect America Act substantially changes the intent and protections included in the original FISA Act. “The FISA Act was originally passed to prevent abuse, not allow for more of it… conclusion that the Protect America Act is intended to reduce the ability of the original FISA legislation to preclude abuse” (Alston P35).
The PAA allows for monitoring of communications without judicial warrant within the United States. The PAA also allows government agencies to compel telecommunications companies to provide access and information while at the same time protecting them from prosecution for violating privacy laws. “Failure to obey an order of the FISA Court may be punished as a contempt of court” (Alston P11). “The Act compels an action and simultaneously removes all responsibility for that action” (Alston P13). The FISA Court is not a judicial court, and meets in secrecy. Communications within the United States can now be monitored at the direction of a secret court without oversight from judicial courts and without recourse from those being monitored. Since the government wanted to inhibit the ability of terrorists to attack using commercial aircraft, the Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) added new airport security measures.
The terrorist attacks resulted in many cases of racial and ethnic profiling. The victims of these accusations were mostly of a Middle Eastern descent. These people were subject to searches and interrogations, often without probable cause (ProQuest P1). In order to avoid claims of profiling, airport security checks include whole-body imagers, full pat-downs, and other screening measures for all travelers. Some of these measures violate the right to be secure in our person, while not necessarily improving safety. “Yet screeners routinely fail to discern the guns, knives, and other contraband their monitors show… the distractions of whole-body imaging are considerably greater than anything in the average carry-on” (Akers P3). These new security measures do not inherently make our transportation more secure, and the distractions caused by some may actually make them less secure. In addition, these systems themselves may not be secure or exactly what they are represented to be.
“The TSA has long denied that its gadgets retain the pictures they snap of us… ‘have zero storage capability’, so the images cannot be stored transmitted or printed…” (Kudwa). “We know from the website of one of the vendors that these machines can indeed store images” (Rotenberg). Indeed, images from these systems were subsequently published on the Internet, leading many to question the honesty of the TSA representatives and their vendors. While the government does indeed need to be able to protect the nation, they should do so without violating constitutional rights. Amendment 4 of the Constitution provides that, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, an no warrants issued, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” (US Constitution, A4).
This basic guaranteed right is violated by intelligence monitoring of personal communications of citizens within the United States borders without a warrant. The PATRIOT Act also allows for search and seizure of private records without a judicial warrant under specific rules. “An FBI agent came to my office and handed me a letter. It demanded that I turn over information about one of my clients and forbade me from telling ‘any person’ that the government had approached me… National security letters are issued by the FBI, not a judge, to obtain information” (Merrill P1-2). “This information is especially important since internal Justice Department investigations have found widespread violations of NSL rules by the FBI” (Merrill P7). This statement reveals that governmental agencies are pursuing private, protected information without obtaining a judicial warrant, hiding their actions behind gag orders with threats of imprisonment, and violating PATRIOT Act provisions for National Security Letters. The books Matched and Crossed, by Ally Condie, in many ways mirror what is happening in our country today with the use of surveillance of citizens by government.
In the books, all personal communication, spoken or written, is monitored by Officials. These Officials are responsible for monitoring the morals and directing the future of their society. These Officials are similar to the many government agencies using surveillance to monitor the daily lives of citizens for “counter-terrorist” purposes. Every facet of daily life is monitored by the Officials and perceived wrongdoing subjects a citizen to social status change and removal from society. In America today, anyone can be searched without probable cause, and to be even suspected as a terrorist or sympathizer can result in imprisonment. In an even greater invasion of privacy, the Officials in the books monitor the very dreams of their citizens. We can only hope medical technology does not grant this capability to our government.
Although some people argue that the government should fight terrorism with all methods, the government should not be violating the Bill of Rights. Government agencies, mostly working in secret and immune from warrants and judicial review, have been granted the ability to violate rights of citizens guaranteed by the Constitution in order to ensure our safety. “Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety” (Benjamin Franklin). United States citizens do not need to relinquish our freedom or rights for safety against terrorists. “Perhaps the best way to ensure that the act remains faithful to fundamental American values is to insist on greater transparency and oversight” (Sales P17). The government should work to protect us from terrorists and other threats, but can do so without violating the rights of citizens granted by the Constitution.
Akers, Becky. “Whole-Body Imaging: Intrusion Without Security.” Freeman Vol. 60, No. 4 May 2010: n. pag. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. . Condie, Ally. Crossed. New York: Dutton Books, 2011. Print.
– – -. Matched. New York: Dutton Books, 2010. Print.
Merrill, Nicholas. “The Patriot Act’s War on Free Speech.” Washington Post 26 Oct. 2011: A. 19. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. ProQuest Staff. “At Issue: National Security and Privacy.” ProQuest LLC. SIRS Issues Researcher, 2011. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. . Sales, Nathan A. “The Patriot Act Isn’t Broken.” Christian Science Monitor 6 Mar. 2009: n. pag. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. . Solove, Daniel J. “Why Privasy Metter Even if You Have ‘Nothing to Hide.’” Chronicle of Higher Education 15 May 2011: n. pag. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. Yoo, John. “Why We Endorsed Warrantless Wiretraps.” Wall Street Journal 16 July 2009: A. 13. SIRS Issues Researcher. Web. 5 Dec. 2011. .
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