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The world is no longer a safe place because terrorist organizations are increasing at an alarming rate. For instance, there are terrorist organizations such as the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda whose activities are leading to massive loss of lives. Secondly, these terrorists are seemingly not restrained by either moral or ethical considerations. As a result, many governments are demonstrating their willingness to counter terrorism through military interventions targeting dissidents within their borders. This is an indication that the government is serious of guaranteeing national security and protecting their citizens.
Besides, these are efforts that require intelligence agencies to use all tools and measures available to do their best to prevent terrorism including surveillance. However, surveillance is a controversial issue because although it aims at detecting and preventing terrorism, it also creates concerns relating to privacy. Essentially, there are concerns that surveillance is overlooking the constitutional checks and balances regarding privacy and personal freedom. Moreover, there is criticism that surveillance does not really work because the criminals have the knowledge on how to bypass government surveillance.
On this note, the debate regarding this issue is based on the question, should government agencies be allowed to carry out surveillance on the Americans as a way of detecting and stopping terrorism, and if so, how should this activity be limited?
Primarily, the surveillance efforts by the government are not likely to affect an average law-abiding citizen. The argument, in this case, is that the surveillance serves as a tool for detecting and preventing terror attacks and other related criminal activities (Scott, 2016).
The law agencies will not also detain any citizen if they have not done anything wrong. But, government surveillance is creating a chilling effect and a disturbing culture. That is, when people are aware they are being observed, often, they feel the need to alter their behaviors even when they are not in the wrong side of the law (Mullikin & Rahman, 2010). In other words, people feel there is an intrusion to their privacy because they internalize the idea that they are being judged and observed through hidden criteria. They feel that although terrorism is a threat to human rights, the level of surveillance is interfering with their privacy. In this case, some governments have provided their intelligence agents with the surveillance power that includes wiretapping, but this has profound effects on the private lives of the citizens (Conniry, 2016). Consequently, there is a heated debate on the basis that even though the government needs to enhance national security, to what extent should be carried out without impacting on privacy.
On a further note, technological advances are playing a role in preventing terror activities. However, there are ethical concerns relating to surveillance issues such as wiretapping as well as the related laws. The dilemma does not only lie on the legality of surveillance, but also whether the personal freedoms are compromised by a zealous authority under the name of keeping the country safe (Bernal, 2016). In the current technological age, personal privacy is compromised through activities such as identity theft, spamming, and spoofing. Nonetheless, citizens can reduce these activities by taking measures such as turning off the cookies and blocking technologies, but they have no control over government surveillance.
On the one hand, the supporters such as civil right groups argue that the government has the right to protect its citizens. These are efforts that include the consistent monitoring of terrorist communication and their channels of communication. Therefore, surveillance activities such as wiretapping are recommendable because it has helped to protect the country from terrorism and major attacks; especially after the 9/11 attack (Mullikin & Rahman, 2010). This is to say that the government should use whatever means that are available to ensure that America is protected from terror attacks. The proponents of surveillance believe that it is the responsibility of the government to enhance security and also protect the interests of the American citizens. That said, despite the privacy concerns, the opponents should look at government surveillance as one of the activities that aim for the greater good of the Americans (Scott, 2016). Furthermore, there are laws that support government surveillance. For instance, the Homeland Security Act 2002 increased the powers of the intelligent services to track down suspected terrorists. It also increased the levels of monitoring communication via e-mails and cell phones.
On the other hand, the opponents against government surveillance claim that the government has many powers. Therefore, it is imperative to control and limit what the government can do; and this can only be accomplished by preventing misuse and subsequent abuse of government powers (Conniry, 2016). Essentially, due to surveillance, the government gathers and stores a massive amount of data about the people living in the United States. This leads to an underlying fear that the government is overstepping their boundaries regarding individual privacy, although this is an inalienable right. The fear is that the government cannot be trusted completely to act in the right way when its power is not restrained (Mullikin & Rahman, 2010). Further opposition lies on the argument that domestic spying is wrong and there is no time the government is allowed to carry out surveillance on its people without a proper search warrant. This means that if not checked, government surveillance can use its power to infringe on personal freedom and liberty. This is the major reason why some legislation such as the Fairness Doctrine and Cyber Security Act 2009 bill are in place in order to gain more control to the power of the authorities (Mullikin & Rahman, 2010). Notably, regarding the current debate on government surveillance, seemingly there are no neutral analysts. The debate is based both on supporting and opposing views.
Considering that government surveillance is a controversial issue, there are laws that make wiretapping an illegal activity. These include 50 ISC 1809(a), 47 USC 605, and 18 USC 2511. In practice, such laws legalize wiretapping only when all the involved parties have given their consent (Mullikin & Rahman, 2010). Notably, there were subversive groups that were using wiretapping illegally pushing the Congress to pass FISA. It would help to check the presidential abuse, particularly, when foreign investigations are conducted. Secondly, the Protect America Act is another law that supports technological measures for protecting Americans. This is a modern intervention that involves providing intelligence agencies with tools that are essential to acquire important information about terrorists (Mullikin & Rahman, 2010). The underlying idea in the favor of wiretapping is that gathering intelligence is the key to counter terrorism, and considering that the United States has declared war against terrorism, then related surveillance is critical. Nonetheless, wiretapping remains a hotly debated issue especially when the Patriot Act was passed. Most of the people felt that the government was overstepping their powers through domestic spying (Mullikin & Rahman, 2010). This move was perceived to be a serious violation of privacy to the extent that the Electronic Frontier Foundation went to court to stop wiretapping by the government.
Government surveillance should not be carried out on citizens, it is only necessary when its main aim is to detect and prevent terror and criminal activities. Notably, most of the States have stepped up to ensure their citizens are protected from activities related to terrorism and other crimes. Government surveillance is one of the increasing trends, and it involves collecting biometric data. The intelligence agencies are also provided with the surveillance power that involves wiretapping and use of tracking devices (Bernal, 2016). However, these practices impact on personal privacy and also raise concerns about how data is protected. This is to say that government should not be allowed to carry out surveillance on its citizens because any act that interferes with privacy must be prescribed by the law. In other words, any cases of search, surveillance, and data collection must be authorized by the law (Scott, 2016). Secondly, in cases where personal information is gathered, it is critical to ensure that it is protected from arbitrary access and undisclosed use. Therefore, the same way the intelligence community collects personal data, they must take effective measures to ensure that information is confidential (Bernal, 2016). This means that although the fight against terrorism is critical, it should not be done in a way that interferes with privacy.
Generally, the idea behind mass surveillance and collecting data is to enhance and maintain security. However, this is a controversial issue when analyzed in relation to its effects on privacy. The right to privacy is a serious issue because it also underpins other rights such as the right to association and assembly (Bernal, 2016). On the one hand, the proponents for government surveillance and some politicians argue that the new surveillance tactics only involves the metadata, not the contents of the calls. But this is an issue that places the citizens at the crossroads because if the metadata is critically analyzed, it can reveal information thought that it could be obtained by examining the contents (Bernal, 2016). This is an indication that the metadata is used as a proxy for obtaining more details, and it is even more worrying when surveillance covers data gathered over the internet. In the emphasis, data collected over the internet can be more revealing about personal lives. When scrutinized by government agencies, it can compromise freedom of thought and conscience (Bernal, 2016). Also, considering that this information can be monitored from both online and offline status, then it becomes clear that this kind of surveillance has a potential impact on personal privacy, and it should be limited.
Another reason why the government should not be allowed to have surveillance on its citizens is the fact that the constitution guarantees the freedom of expression. This means that people have the right to hold opinions, receive information, and ideas without the interference of the authorities (Mullikin & Rahman, 2010). Therefore, although the government should take part to monitor communication channels that are suspected to be connected to terrorists, when the same surveillance is directed to the citizens, their freedom of expression will be affected (Bernal, 2016).
The reality is that the internet is offering many platforms for social networking. However, with the realization that the information shared here is monitored, then the level of interaction is reduced because of the chilling effect. That said, surveillance can be necessary during instances such as riots and political unrests (Bernal, 2016). Nonetheless, it should not invade privacy especially considering how the collected data will be handled, interpreted, and used. Therefore, this is to say, in the case of government surveillance, it should only focus on deterring terrorism, rather than gathering and collection personal data from citizens without their consent (Scott, 2016). There is also the need to develop policies that will enhance oversight of surveillance systems in order to protect privacy as provided by the First Amendment rights. In this case, further regulations are critical at the federal level to provide the baseline for protecting the citizens against government analysis of personal data. Also, legal safeguards should be enforced on the basis of transparency and accountability before any surveillance systems and technology are deployed consent (Scott, 2016). Currently, there are no appropriate measures that are enforced to ensure the surveillance systems are used appropriately to avoid infringing on privacy.
Summarily, government surveillance on its citizens is an increasing trend. On the one hand, there are arguments that the government has the responsibility to enhance national security, and to achieve this, the surveillance of the masses comes in handy. That is, it is helping to detect and prevent terrorism because the intelligence community can monitor the communication channels used by terrorists. As a result, technologies such as wiretapping are being used to gather personal data as the authorities focus on protecting their citizens. However, the manner in which government surveillance is carried out does not only create a chilling effect, but also infringe on personal privacy to a significant degree. With the realization that their communication is being monitored, it becomes a bit harder for people to express their views and opinions freely; especially over the social media. Therefore, this is to say that although it is paramount that national security should not be compromised and terrorism should be countered, it is equally important to respect the rights of the citizens. Surveillance may be practical in some instances but it should not affect or hinder people from enjoying rights and freedoms that are guaranteed by the constitution.
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