Terrorist attacks and terrorist threats have caused a serious conflict between public safety and civil rights in the legal system of the U.S. Law enforcement agencies are directly involved into this conflict, as they directly implement public safety procedures which often contradict the basic civil rights.
“In the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks have come many proposals for tightening security; some measures to that end have already been taken. Civil libertarians are troubled. They fear that concerns about national security will lead to an erosion of civil liberties” (Posner, 2001). The American state persistently strives to guarantee public safety to all its citizens. The active work of law enforcement agencies has improved public safety, but has largely sacrificed numerous civil rights of the American citizens.
It is clear and understandable, why law enforcement agencies do their best to improve the level of public safety in the United States: the terrorist acts of 9/11 have proved the vulnerability of the American state in the face of large terrorist organizations. Immediately after the first terrorist attacks, law enforcement agencies have realized their critical role in promoting the highest level of public safety among their citizens. However, the need to guarantee public safety has led to the discrimination of the basic civil rights, especially among the Arab and Muslim population.
There is a perception that local law enforcement authorities did not take seriously the complaints of Muslim, Arab, and South Asia residents who were subjected to hate crimes in acts of misplaced retaliation for the events of September 11. This has been an issue in the taxi industry, where many drivers are South Asian in origin. (New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, 2004)
The conflict between public safety and civil rights became visible as soon as law enforcement agencies have started to implement numerous law enforcement measures to prevent further terrorist attacks. These measures were mainly expressed through the development of more accurate identification systems, tighter security, tighter immigration laws, and increased surveillance and communications. These measures have been extremely effective in minimizing terrorist threats. Simultaneously, they have caused serious problems in the area of civil rights. Surveillance and identification systems are of the main concern.
The existing facial profiling systems are far from being perfect and cause numerous errors. Law enforcement agencies develop effective surveillance procedures, but these procedures imply that any type of personal communication can be subject to legal monitoring. As a result, there is a “possibility of sharing of sensitive private information between several agencies with no safeguards for their future use” (Schwabe, 2003). Although surveillance procedures can prevent possible terrorist threats, they can also break citizens’ privacy.
Law enforcement authorities have not yet been able to resolve this issue. While law enforcement agencies’ primary role is to ensure that citizens are safe, they keep heating the conflict between privacy rights and public safety. It is understandable, that law enforcement agencies view their primary role in eliminating the risks of terrorist attacks. However, the elimination of terrorist threats should go in line with the basic civil liberties. Law enforcement procedures should be performed with the account of the basic legal principles.
“The judicial system must be empowered to deal effectively with any abuses of proposed security measures to protect the constitutional rights and liberties of all citizens. It should ensure that anyone accused has adequate legal representation and a fair chance to prove their innocence” (Schwabe, 2003). The role of the law enforcement agencies is in seeking the correct balance between the improved public safety and non-discrimination of the basic civil rights. Law enforcement agencies directly implement public safety policies at the national and local level. This is why they have an excellent chance to re-evaluate the civil rights’ issues, and to find the new instruments of implementing public safety procedures without breaking the basic civil rights.
New York Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. (2004). Civil rights
implications of post-September 11 law enforcement practices in New York.
Posner, R. (2001). Security versus civil liberties. The Atlantic.com.
Schwabe, W. (2003). Challenges and choices for crime-fighting technology: law enforcement
and public safety. Rand.