Surveillance

The tragic incidents of September 11, 2001, radically manifested the ambit of action and effective backlash of terrorism. This scenario made national security and protection of citizens a major concern for the American government. American government took all substantial and accelerated measure to meet the requirements of this crucial period of history. The establishment of the Department of Homeland Security was an apt and appropriate counter-measure by the U.S. to the terrorism defiance. The government further explored other avenues to develop a perfect security model and indulged other community groups i.e. scholars, scientists, and technologists with their intellectual and technological capabilities.

The National Strategy for Homeland Security depicts some of the broad features for national security. The Homeland Security Department has pointed out six major action areas and has agenda to consolidate its efforts in these spheres. These include “intelligence and warning; border and transportation security; domestic counterterrorism; protecting critical infrastructures; defending against terrorism; and emergency preparedness and response”. (Yen, John. 2004) The first three areas are related to avoidance of attack in the American territory and its interest worldwide while latter activities include minimizing the defenselessness of America to terrorist attacks and reduction of harms and damages from these terrorist activities.

Technological advancements and innovations in communications have enabled the security agencies to locate, counter and overcome the terrorist activities worldwide. These scientific advancements must play their all-encompassing, essential role in surmounting many challenges posed by terrorist such as information collection, interception etc. outlined in the above-mentioned “National Strategy for Homeland Security”.

John Yen (2004) cites the research study of Popp et al. that illustrates the working effectiveness of a number of DARPA-sponsored research initiatives for counterterrorism. The initiatives recommends following measures for effective and efficient counterterrorism; centrality of working association and active alliances between different agencies, vigorous interpretation and timely decision-making strategies to sustain the active alliances’ information sharing and collective problem solving. It further includes detection of multilingual codes and its translation and interpretation through ICTs according to the surveillance needs.(Cited in Yen, John. 2004)

Another measure adopted by the American government is promulgation and enactment of Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001, famously known as Patriot Act. This Act authorizes law enforcement agencies to take appropriate measure against any activity of terrorism. It further eases out some of the legal and constitutional impediments from the way of these law-enforcing institutes. Charles Doyle, Senior Specialist, American Law Division discuses the objectives and effectiveness of this Patriot Act in The Congressional Research Service (CRS) Report for Congress report entitled “The USA PATRIOT Act: A Sketch,” The report describes the Patriot Act as an apt and appropriate measure to acts of terrorism, providing the authority to surveillance agencies and law enforcement officials “to track and intercept communication”. It further authorizes Treasury Office to locate and embark upon the corrupt practices for foreign money laundering. It removes the unnecessary hurdles for officials and produced new efficient procedural measures and strict penalties for terrorists and criminals involved in terrorist activities. (ALCU)

Some other scholars have described the Patriot an imperative measure to curb the terrorist activity through proper surveillance. Its provisions further aid two vital objectives. Firstly they guarantee American citizens that U.S. government is taking adequate step to eradicate or counter terrorist activities and is a savior of their lives and thus is helpful in psychological war against terrorism. Secondly it assists the surveillance agencies to take all the immediate and effective measures to disrupt the criminal and/or terrorist activity.

Although Patriot act provides surveillance agencies with great powers to search and eavesdrop to intercept and counter any terrorist activity but critics of the Act has illustrated that Patriot Act forfeited legal and constitutional shields of liberty and privacy for American citizen. For example, Susan Herman who is Centennial Professor of Law at Brooklyn Law School and General Counsel of the American Civil Liberties Union holds the views that Patriot Act is against the spirit of cherished American ideals of freedom and democracy. She described that Patriot act lack a balance between rights of the American citizens and the President’s initiative to curb the terrorist activities. She says that Presidential powers in Patriot act are imperative for the protection of American citizen’s from future terrorists attacks but he is also responsible to “preserve, protect and defend the constitution” that safeguards the privacy and individuals rights of the people. (Herman, 2002)

Prior to Patriot Act, U.S. President George W. Bush promulgated a secret executive order soon after 9/11 that capacitated the National Security Agency (NSA) with an authority to carry out wiretapping of suspected persons in America. The hallmark of this executive order was to conduct surveillance without acquiring approval or warrants from a FISA court. This order and activity was unlawful and unconstitutional as it trespassed its legal and constitutional jurisdictions and violated the legal and constitutional privacy rights of the people.

New York Times reports that Bush administration justified this mass wiretapping program as a “critical tool in helping disrupt terrorist plots and prevent attacks inside the United States” (Risen. J & Lichtblau Eric. 2005) and considered it vital for national security. But the opponents of the program hold the view that this order has serious legal constitutional repercussions and has harmed the cherished American ideals of personal freedom, right of privacy and the constitutional provision for no illegal and unjustified intrusion in the lives of American national provided under fourth amendments.

We can debate whether he (Bush) had a good or bad motivation, but it was a crime. We all are well aware of the fact that Bush intentions are good. His sole motive was to authorize the agencies with necessary powers for speedy interception of terrorists’ activities. But there is a proper and lawful way to capacitate the NSA with this authority i.e. to formulate new laws if the previous ones are obsolete and not capable of handling the critical situation. Feingold says in this regard that “Defeating the terrorists should be our top national priority, and we all agree that we need to wiretap them to do it. In fact, it would be irresponsible not to wiretap terrorists. But we have yet to see any reason why we have to trample the laws of the United States to do it.”(Our Job…, 2006, p. 28).

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