Proper Balance between Liberty and Security
The September 11, 2001, terrorist attack on the American land has remained one of the terrifying terror bouts for the country. It reminded the United States’ government of its responsibility to protect its people and the country. Following the 9/11 attack, the United States government enacted various legislations and security policies that heightened the country’s alertness and terror mitigation capabilities. While most of the American citizens applaud the government in its war on terror, the Arabs Americans, and the Muslim community have had little to celebrate. As Green explain, most of the anti-terror measures implemented by the government are oppressive and denies the civil rights of the Arabs American and the Muslims, whether foreigners or American residents (346). The claim of abused civil liberty has evoked heated debate in America on whether the country can attain a balance between liberty and security. While some people believe that it is possible to achieve both security and liberty, others argue that respect for civil rights may result to an insecure country. This paper discusses how the American government can achieve a proper balance between security and individual citizens’ freedom. The paper evaluates some of the changes enacted since the 9/11 attacks on how each change may be implemented without a compromise on civil liberty.
One of the changes that have been witnessed since the 9/11 terror attack is the erosion of the due process in the law enforcement procedures. The rights of citizens, such as the right to be presumed innocent until when proven guilty, are no longer granted to terrorism suspects. As revealed by the story of Abdulrahman Zeitoun, an American of Syrian origin who was arrested in the aftermaths of the Hurricane Katrina, several Americans, particularly, the Arab-Americans and Muslims, are ruthlessly mistreated by the police when arrested as crime suspects. For instance, Zeitoun and his accomplices were arrested while allegedly distribution aids to the victims of the hurricane. Dave Eggers narrates the story in his non-fictional book, Zeitoun, to attract the world’s attention to the imbalance between beefed security and violation of individual’s rights. Despite being arrested on accounts of looting, the suspects were denied the right to speak to an attorney or notify family members of their arrest. As Eggers elaborates, Zeitoun and his group were being investigated for terror involvement by virtue of being Muslims and by being in possession of lump sum of money. Even though the charges against them were later dismissed, their rights as suspects wereimmensely abused. Zeitoun represents several other cases of the government’s violation of due process when dealing terror suspects. As Green discusses, the government’s vigor to secure the nation has led to the abuse of individual citizen’s constitutional rights (347).
Another security issues that have evoked public outcry is the increased surveillance that was initiated in the aftermath of the 9/11. As Atkinexplain, the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) was expanded to give the government agencies increased access to people’s privacy (7). FISA, as enacted in its original form in 1978, stated that foreign surveillance would be conducted upon an authorization by a secret United States’ court. Further, surveillance was only conducted on foreign powers and their agents. However, following the 9/11 attack, the United States’ legislature enacted the USA PATRIOT Act, which reinforced and expanded the scope of FISA. It gave the US security agency such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National Security Agency(NSA), the mandate to conduct surveillance in domestic criminal inquiries. Consequently, the US security agencies can conduct internet activities and phone record surveillance on individual Americans without prior notices. Additionally, the government keeps track of people’s bank records as well as travel history. This surveillance is believed to necessitate the governments’ ability to identify and mitigate a terror threat way before happening. According to the government, availability of such information enables security agency to identify potential terror activity through linking of different data perspectives.However, the increased government surveillance has led to diminished personal privacy as people are forced to sacrifice their personal liberty.
Although some Americans are ready to sacrifice civil liberty for the sake of their security, others are opposed to the idea of the government accessing too much of their private information. According to the Pew Research Center, people’s approval of government surveillance was high in the months after the 9/11 attack(Doherty n.pag). However, this approval has been declining steadily. By December 2001 (only a few months after the attack), 55 percent of the Americans found it necessary to give up civil liberty for the purpose of security. By 2009, however, the approval of government security had dropped significantly. According to the Pew survey, only 27 percent of the Americans found it necessary to trade their civil liberty for security while 65 percent argued that the government surveillance was not necessary. AsAtkinelaborates, those opposed to government surveillance believe that security cannot be attained without civil liberty (8). However, the government is of the view that its access to personal data is essential in ensuring heightened security.
From the above discussion, it appears that the government has been unable to respect civil liberty while still securing the nations. Some of the measures taken by the government in the effort to enhance security invades the people’s privacy, contrary to the constitutional rights and granted freedom. However, it is the government’s mandate to secure its people and also protect their civil rights. The author of this paper is of the opinion that both security and liberty can be attained. Since both security and personal freedom are important to the citizens, the government should enact measures that promote and establishes a balance between both the national security and personal liberty. Even though investigation and prosecution of terror suspects remain the nation’s urgent priority, they should be done within the conserves of the constitution. For instance, being a terror suspect should not eradicate the suspects’ right to counsel and the right to be freed on bond where necessary. While the constitution remains unchanged, the law enforcers should remain bound by the law.
Additionally, the government should explore alternative ways of acquiring information as opposed privacy-infringing surveillance. For instance, the government may establish effective community policies that will ensure that people can volunteer security threat information. Elaborate community policemen enhance the relationship and trust between the people’s and the security agencies. On the contrary, increased surveillance has distorted this relationship as some people become agitated by the knowledge that their personal life may be monitored. Therefore, effective community policy may be a workable alternative to security surveillance.
Atkin, Michelle Louise. Balancing Liberty and Security: An Ethical Study of US Foreign Intelligence Surveillance, 2001-2009. Vol. 15.Rowman& Littlefield Publishers, 2013.
Doherty, Carroll. Balancing Act: National Security and Civil Liberties in Post-9/11 Era.Pew Research Center.(2013). Web. 18/6/2015. http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2013/06/07/balancing-act-national-security-and-civil-liberties-in-post-911-era/
Eggers, Dave.Zeitoun. New York: Knopf Doubleday
Green, Alison. “Balancing liberty and security: Human rights, human wrongs.” (2014): 346-347. Web. 18/6/2015 http://www.palgrave-journals.com/sj/journal/v27/n3/pdf/sj201225a.pdf