At present, the debate that is raging in American politics is the legality of the government’s method of surveillance. Many civil liberties advocates are continuously criticizing the government’s acts because it intrudes private citizen’s right to privacy. This paper will present the ground of the government’s move and present its effect on the people.
For many centuries and up to the present, America has been recognized as a nation superior among any other nations. In almost all aspects, political, economic, and even in military capability, America stands to be superior in the whole world. However, its capability in maintaining its security has been challenged during the Pearl Harbor attack. Other attack were purported by terrorists but directed against Americans in some parts of the globe. Moreover, the American people were not threatened when Ramzi Yousef and his companions bombarded the World Trade Center in New York on 1993 (Scheppler, 2005, p.6). American citizens felt security within their own homeland, not until the unforgettable 9/11 terrorist attack.
Before the 9/11, the world perceived acts of terrorism as small scale bombings of a public area. Terrorism was directed only against a few numbers of innocent people. But 9/11 terrorist attack changed everything. In a split of seconds, the America’s symbol of economic power collapsed by an intelligent maneuvering of plane. Hundreds of innocent lives were lost while billions worth of properties were destroyed. Almost 8 years have passed and yet the memories and the threat that 9/11 left is still fresh among the victims and their families. It is also fresh in the everyday history of America.
The event has created a major change in the lives of American people and American image as well. For the past 8 eight years, security and terrorism were the major concentration of the government and of the International Community. Different tactics, policies and laws were adopted to thwart terrorism and it includes the devastating war in Iraq and in Afghanistan. At present, even eight years have passed, the fear of terrorism is real and is shivering the consciousness of American government. In order to totally thwart terrorism, the government is maximizing all its authority to track any of its traces, even if it amounted to surpassing the rights of the private citizens.
Grounds of the Government to monitor Information Technology/ Computer
The 9/11 terrorist attack is the very cause of the government’s policies and laws that it adopted. After the 9/11, the government concentrated in phasing out all architects of the attack and of the proponents of the attack. At present, the government is still active in performing all the essential moves to thwart terrorism. Information technology is also their main concentration. One of the very significant law that granted the federal authorities to monitor the citizen’s computers and of the information technology is the “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001” barely five weeks after the 9/11 also known as USA Patriot Act (Scheppler, 2005, p.4). Through the USA Patriot Act, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was intensified (Minow).
The USA Patriot Act
The USA Patriot Act was the immediate response of Bush’s administration, as it was enacted and became a law on October 26, 2001 only six weeks after the 9/11 attack (Scheppler, 2005, p.6). Both political parties, Democrats and Republicans, overwhelmedly supported the law because it was perceived to be necessary in fighting the enemy and in securing the country from further attacks. The power granting the federal agents of FBI the authority to monitor computers is based on Title II of the Act which is entitled as the Enhanced Surveillance Procedure (Bumgarner, 2006, p.196). Authorities that are granted to the federal agents include but not limited to interception to electronic communications which has connection with terrorism and communications related to computer fraud and abuse (Bumgarner, 2006, p.196). Moreover, any information taken through the surveillance by means of interception will be shared with other agencies like CIA and to the judiciary.
In implementing the Act, the federal authorities were granted with power to make an in-depth investigation. With regard to computer or information technology, the FBI is allowed to wiretap cell phones, access E-mail communication, and trace the Internet usage (Crotty, 2003, p.38). If the FBI suspected a citizen or even non- citizen to have connections with terrorism, they may track the person’s usage of internet and trace the conversations or activities done in the Internet through a warrant obtained secretly. In addition, they may collect all essential e-mail conversations of the suspected person. Any information gathered can be shared with the CIA.
Moreover, through the “roving surveillance”, the federal agents can “rove to the computers or telephone used in any places including those used in the library” (Minow). In 2002, several libraries were observed and investigated by the federal agents. According to Mary Minow, the agents were requiring for the list of all sign-ins of the users at all libraries (Minow). In addition, after the act was made effective, various warrants were served to trace any suspicious electronic communication upon major Internet service Providers (Minow).
The unique feature of the federal authorities’ surveillance method is the so-called Carnivore which was primarily named as DCS1000 (Minow). This particular device is “an e-mail/ electronic communications surveillance program that requires Internet Service providers (ISPs) to attach box to their networks so the FBI can monitor the traffic that passes through their facility (Mirabito and Morgenstern, 2004, p.312). In addition, the device is capable of analyzing millions of messages in just a single second. Through this device, the federal government can further their surveillance to a greater extent.
Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA)
Before the birth of the USA Patriot Act, the government has already been bestowed with power to make electronic surveillance by virtue of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) (Steinberg, p.44). FISA was enacted on 19728 with the purpose of “establishing legal standards and procedures for the use of electronic surveillance in collecting foreign intelligence and counter- intelligence within the United States” (Steinberg, p.44). Through this Act, surveillance by means of wiretapping was enunciated and it included radio interception, monitoring devices, and watch listing. Significantly, the USA Patriot Act expanded the extent of the FISA in a sense that standards for courts approval for conducting surveillance are of lesser gravity than in ordinary request for a search.
After the 9/11 attack, electronic surveillance were relatively implemented. The FBI’s request for information gathering from internet providers was prevalent. One provider which has been served with a warrant was the EarthLink (Stenger, 2001). On the part of the interet providers, they were not hesitant in cooperating with the federal authorities as they were also determined to fight terrorism.
The Pros and Cons of Monitoring Information Technology
Despite the zealous and determination of the government to thwart terrorism, the adopted measures were widely criticized for being violative of the citizen’s civil liberties. On the part of the government, they persistently assert that they have the right or they are allowed to monitor Information Technology or the computer of the citizens, especially if they are suspected of being terrorism. One of their justification is the high- tech method that terrorist use in carrying out their evil motives. Notably, the 9/11 terrorist attack was patiently planned through the use of technology. High crimes were also perfected through the use of information technology.
Significantly, the suicide attacker who maneuvered the plane towards the twin towers used internet communications (Steinberg, 2006, p.42). The mastery of internet communication was an essential step for the Al Qaeda to perfect their horrific plan. The remnants, pains, and the threats that is left by the 9/11 terrorist attack would justify the government’s step in intercepting Information Technology as a means to track any signs of terrorism. In addition, according to experiences, terrorist attacks abruptly and the attackers are difficult to identify. The architects of terrorism are unknown. The prevention was even impossible because terrorist are intelligent and patient in carry out their designs. However, through technology, the government would be able to trace any sign of terrorist activity and can infer a threat from suspicious activities. Moreover, “today’s information technologies, such as data mining and pattern recognition, and analytical tools can help in avoiding the pitfalls of ensuring security” (Steinberg, 2006, p.43).
Furthermore, through information technology, the government can collect data that can help the federal authorities to prevent further security threatening plans of the enemy. Moreover, the sharing of information from one government agency to another would tighten cooperation and would make other Intelligence Community to access information that are valuable enough to trace potential threat. This was seen as a problem of the nation and also the way by which Osama bin Laden and his collages easily implemented their attack (Steinberg, 2006, p.45).
It is of no doubt that the authority created by the Act federal is tainted with Constitutional question. However, there is no decision handed yet. But guardians of the civil liberties are actively criticizing the moves of the government. According to Steinberg, the government’s use of information technology as a means of sweeping and tracking terrorist activities could be made acceptable by minimizing its negative effects (Steinberg, 2006, p.44). Such mitigating tools can be providing guidelines of what information can be accessed from private sectors (Steinberg, 2006, p.44). The federal officials should also be constrained from using private information, rather the rights of the private citizens should be protected and the interest of the company shall be recognized when they get hold of the information (Steinberg, 2006, p.44). Moreover, the permissible information should be made clear by the federal government in their guidelines so as not to create an abuse in the information gathering. Furthermore, a toll that could audit the information gathered by the federal authorities would be useful. By adhering to these measures, the citizens could easily justify the acts of the government.
On the contrary, the monitoring of the information by the federal authorities should not be allowed on the basic argument that it violates the right of the citizens enshrined in the Constitution. Through the monitoring of the computers of Information Technology, the federal authorities can extend their surveillances. Notably, the warrant that authorizes the FBI to make searches is secretly obtained (Bullock, et. al., 2003, p.44). With regard to monitoring computers in libraries, the Act would create a widespread intrusion to library user’s privacy. Be it noted that surveillance would lead to two doors namely, to the computer server and to the individual user (Minow). The first door would allow federal authorities to track emails and log in history in the internet ((Minow). Through this means, they may be able to see messages sent and received including the date and time of the internet usage. The second door, on the other hand, leads to the identification of the individual who used the computer. His activities would be tracked down and his identity would be recognized. All records would be mandated by the federal government if they wanted. Through this method, the school and even the students would not be secured of their privacy.
Another reason why the government should not be allowed to monitor the computers is the perceived abuses that may be committed by the federal authorities. Through the power of the federal government, they may be able to access private information of persons who are not suspected of terrorism. Moreover, the federal government is allowed entry of the place subjected for search. Furthermore, through the electronic surveillance, information taken even by accident would lead to criminal prosecution of the victims. Notably, privacy is the right greatly recognized by every citizen. Most individuals would prefer to be free from any intrusions especially from the government agents. But then through the Act, the privacy being enjoyed would be deteriorated.
Despite the zealous purpose of the government in ensuring security of the whole America, it does not still appeal to the people for it violates several rights of the people. The very fundamental right that the government’s right to monitor information technology is the right to privacy. According to the Constitution, the people are ensured of their right from illegal searches by the government. Such right has been recognized to extend to electronic communication like e-mail and Internet usage. Through technological innovations, the individuals are exposed to dealing and entrusting their activities through internet. Such activity includes bank transaction, contracting, trading, among others. It has also been part of today’s life that most transactions are done through internet because it offers convenience. Communications are also done through e-mail because it is the cheapest and easiest way to communicate. Furthermore, some people entrust their confidential information in the internet. But through the Act, the confidential information would not be protected. The people are not also assured that information taken would be protected by the federal government.
Another violation is the right of the people to be searched based on probable cause. Since the FBI is allowed to obtain warrant based on suspicion, the sufficiency for the ground of probable cause is not guaranteed. In addition, the standard set out in the Constitution would be violated because the warrant would be obtained and issued secretly. Furthermore, the Act that authorizes the federal authorities in making surveillance would defeat the privileged communication being enjoyed by the citizens. Thus, the citizens’ civil rights are threatened.
For centuries ago, the citizens felt secured from foreign attacks. America maintained to be strong in the eyes of the whole world. But the unforgettable 9/11 terrorist attack changed everything. Although America was able eradicate the enemies, the measures it adopted were being criticized for being tainted with threatening claws. Terrorism may be a valid and compelling reason to strengthen governments move to intensify its investigatory and surveillance power, but it should be done in a way that it will not suppress or jeopardize any other rights. The monitoring of the computer and information technology could be considered as an intelligent move because acts of terror are involving the use of technology. However, it should also be applied in a manner that will not be detrimental to other people’s rights. The right to privacy of every individual has long been battled in the history. Now that it has been granted, it should not be arbitrarily taken by any other sector, not even the government. Thus, the government should not be allowed to monitor the information technology or the computers unless they provide guidelines that ensure the protection and respect of the citizen’s privacy.
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Bumgarner, J. B. (2006). Federal Agents: The Growth of Federal Law Enforcement in America. Greenwood Publishing Group.
Crotty, W.J. (2003). The Politics of Terror: The U.S. Response to 9/11. Boston: Northeastern University Press.
Minow, M. (15 February 2002). Law and Technology Resources for Legal Professionals. Features – The USA PATRIOT Act and Patron Privacy on Library Internet Terminals. Retrieved August 15, 2008, from http://www.llrx.com/features/usapatriotact.htm#fn4
Mirabito, M.M., & Morgenstern, B.L. (2004). The New Communications Technologies: Applications, Policy, and Impact. Elsevier.
Scheppler, B. (2005). The USA Patriot ACT: Antiterror Legislation in Response to 9/11. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group.
Steinberg, J. Clayton Northouse, Computer Ethics Institute. (2006). Protecting what Matters: Technology, Security, and Liberty Since 9/11. Washington, DC: Brookings Institution Press.
Stenger, R. CNN.com. (2008). Feds enlist ISPs in terrorist probe. Retrieved August 15, 2008, from http://archives.cnn.com/2001/TECH/internet/09/13/fbi.isps/.