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Current"issues" listed in the ACLU`s website: http://www.aclu.org
Thecurrent liberty issues listed in the ACLU are Surveillance andprivacy, racial profiling, censorship, drug sentencing and penalty,marijuana law reform, police practices, right to protest, consumerprivacy, LGBT basic rights and liberties and employment.
Thistopic is of immense interest due to negative effects the governmentpractices and policies have had on American citizens’ infringementon privacy (ACLU). After the September 9/11 attack, the governmentembarked on unprecedented practices aimed at gathering intelligenceinformation to counter terror attack networks. Although this practiceof surveillance is important, some practices such as wiretappingprivate communications has been a critical aspect on American civilliberties. The National intelligence Agency has been collecting vastamount of personal data this data is sensitive and is prone tomisuse. Surveillance was scaled in all places including individualhomes and this has made private communications untrustworthy.
Theaftermath of the September 9/11 presented the American society withhard choices of maintaining citizens’ freedom and safety.Significant strategic measures and policy changes were undertaken bythe Federal government to prevent and counter possible terror attackin future. In particular, the practices and policies adopted by thegovernment in the cause of fighting terrorism have seen the Americancitizen lose their right to privacy as enshrined in the constitution.Before the September 9/11 attack, it was impossible to imagine thatthe American government would engage in practices an policies thattargeted racial profiling, killing, surveillance, religiousdiscrimination, indefinite detention, wiretapping and extraordinaryrenditions. All these practices have undermined the American citizensas well as foreigners’ liberties safeguarded by the constitution.
TheAmerican constitution guarantees citizens protection from anypractices and policies undermine individuals’ civil liberties suchas freedom of expression and privacy. However, these civil libertiesare no more in the modern American society. Matters of nationalinterest have overshadowed the basic tenets of individual civilliberties. My curiosity on this issue is that citizens’ interestsshould be protected first rather than putting interests on nationalmatters. Trading individual liberties in pursuit of national interestundermines the impetus and motivation required from the public toparticipate actively against terrorism. When individuals’ privacyis curtailed through uncensored surveillance, people retract andbecome uncooperative in the fight against terrorism.
Onone occasion, President Obama was quoted, "ourvalues have been our best national security asset—in war and peacein times of ease and in eras of upheaval”(ACLU). However, the government practices and policies that involveprivate surveillance have greatly undermined the very basic valuesthe government postulates to protect (ACLU). In fact, one of thegoals of Homeland security was to scale community participation as aform of community policing against terrorism. My curiosity is that,government can still pursue policies and practices against terrorismwithout overlay undermining citizen right for privacy.
Constitutionalissue(s) associated with surveillance and privacy in America
Oneof the practice adopted by the National Security Agency (NSA) as partof war against terror was increased intelligence gathering bothlocally and internationally. This surveillance program has beensubjected to heated debates for infringing individual rights asenshrined in the fourth amendment act. The FISA program allowedunwarranted seizure of data through phone tapping and internetmonitoring internet (Lichtblauand Risen12).As a result, the public engaged the government in heated debate andchallenging the program in court over the constitutionality of theFISA program. Pressure from the public and civil liberty groups ledto the relaxation of FISA program activities. Today, the NationalSecurity Agency must derive court warrant in the event wiretapping isrequired on particular citizens.
Afterthe September 9/11 attack, the congress passed the Patriotic Act thatgave the President overriding powers to bypass the NSA surveillanceAct in ordering interception of domestic communications onindividuals perceived as Al Qaeda operatives. This move waschallenged by some civil societies and the congress asunconstitutional. It is no doubt that the intrusion against citizenprivacy through unwarranted surveillance has been subjected tonumerous court injunctions.
Theconstitutional crises brought about by this issue have been about thelegal interpretation between the constitutional law and the statutoryinterpretation. The contentious issues are that, the legality of NSAsurveillance program is seen on two fronts it is constitutionalwhile on the other hand it is illegal. In particular, the unwarrantedsurveillance goes against the civil liberties enshrined in theArticle 1 of the Fourth Amendment. However, the administration is ofthe view that, except on authorized state, unwarranted surveillanceis legal as mandated by the FISA act in regard to intelligencegathering for perceived terror suspects.
OnAugust 2006, Judge Anna Diggs from the United States District courtfrom Michigan ruled over a case between ACLU versus NSA that thesurveillance program was unconstitutional as per the First and Fourthamendments. According to the Judge, the President had violated theFourth amendment of the constitution by failing to procure necessarywarrant orders as required by the FISA Act and the First Amendment onBill of rights. However, the case was dismissed in July 2007 by theSixth Circuit Court that argued the plaintiff did not have sufficientproof that communications had been intercepted by NSA withoutwarrants(Savage and Risen).
Interestgroups working against the issue
Sincethe aftermath of the September 9/11 terror attack, various practicesand policies undertaken by the government in collaboration withtelecommunication companies introduced digital technologies involvedin unwarranted seizure of private data. As a result of increasedpublic distaste against these practices, there have been severalbipartisan coalitions of civil liberty organizations who havecontinued to censor the Congress action against these unwarrantedsurveillance and infringement on citizen privacy (Reitman 2).
Thesecivil groups are The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), FrontierFoundation, Freedom works and reddt among others. The interest groupshave consistently requested the Congress to institute investigatorycommittees and legal reforms against domestic spying and other formof illegal surveillance. The groups have written severally to theCongress, as well as, launching advocacy programs such as‘StopWatching.Us.’ All this, is done in effort to press thegovernment account for domestic spying and massive data collectedthrough increased biometric video tapping. The Civil Groups have alsobeen vocal in pressing the Congress to reform the FISA Amendment Actand the unconstitutional law that allows the government to engage inmassive surveillance.
Possiblegovernmental solutions being discussed to address this issue
Oneaspect that has been repeated several times both by the public,interest groups, Civil Liberty unions and the Court rulings is thatunwarranted surveillance and massive collection of private data isunconstitutional. On two occasions, the Supreme Court and the CircuitCourt has ruled that increased unwarranted domestic surveillanceconstitute infringement and undermining the basis of civil libertiesas enshrined in the United States constitution. Recent developmentindicates that making amendment on FISA program is akin toundermining the President authority that granted him power to formNSA (Lichtblauand Risen8).
Ina report published by Privacyand Civil Liberties Oversight Board in 2014, the board roots for abalance between liberty and security. The government should safeguardthe national interest as well as upholding individual freedoms. Thecommission suggested that the government follow the constitutionalmethod of seeking court warrants any time the government wants to tapcommunication systems of suspected individuals in this way thegovernment would protect civilian liberties and pursue matters ofnational interests. Another, strategy discussed is that, the NSAwhile collecting calling records data should only be limited to thebasic ‘metadata’ rather than the content of the communication andthis would help in avoiding gross infringement on private life.
Changeslikely to occur in the next five years
Inthe past few years there has been slow but positive trends limitingthe government overt and unwarranted domestic surveillance. Today,unlike in past ten years, the American government and especially theoperations of NSA have been streamlined to only focus on suspectedindividuals. The courts ruled that the NSA under the FISA obtaincourt warrants when massive surveillance is need on particularindividuals. However, to date, there are still cases of unwarrantedcommunication tapping and there is unlikely to change in the future.The threat of terrorism is eminent and despite the public and CivilUnion outcry, massive collection of data and surveillance has notchanged and will not change in future. The reason for this is that,there are several avenues of collecting biometric data on citizenseven if NSA programs are challenged from hospitals, schools,supermarkets and government agencies massive surveillance continues.
ACLU.“Protecting Civil Liberties In the digital age.” AmericanCivil Liberty Union.2015. Accessed fromhttps://www.aclu.org/protecting-civil-liberties-digital-age
EricLichtblauand JamesRisen."OfficialsSay U.S. Wiretaps Exceeded Law".TheNew York Times.April15, 2009.
ReitmanRainey. “86 Civil Liberties Group and Internet Companies Demand anEnd to NSA spying.” ElectronicFrontier Foundation.2013. Accessed fromhttps://www.eff.org/deeplinks/2013/06/86-civil-liberties-groups-and-internet-companies-demand-end-nsa-spying
Savage,Charlie Risen, James. "FederalJudge Finds N.S.A. Wiretaps Were Illegal".TheNew York Times.March31, 2010.