By Josh Hughes | United States
Today is the 17th anniversary of one of the most tragic events to take place on American soil: The attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon on September 11, 2001. Nearly 3,000 men and women lost their lives that day, and over 6,000 more were injured. The world after that day would never be the same. Americans and foreigners alike fell under new abuses of power that had never seen.
The USA PATRIOT Act of 2001
In reaction to the attacks, the Bush administration signed the USA PATRIOT Act into law in October of 2001. Officially the Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act, the bill greatly strengthened the surveillance power of the federal government. It allowed for credit card purchases to be tracked, extended the use of wiretapping, and monitored emails and Web searches. It also, under Section 216, states that probable cause was not needed to obtain this information. The government simply had to state they’d likely use it for a criminal investigation. Section 218 said that the government no longer had to certify that the surveillance was for foreign intelligence. They only had to say it was for a “significant purpose.”
The big issue most people had with this bill was that it allowed for seizures of information without warrants. This is a clear violation of the 4th Amendment of the Constitution. Section 215 stated that the target did not have to be notified of seizures either. Another issue was the fact that documents and records could be seized based on keywords. People could be surveilled based off what they searched or said. Opponents of this claimed this was a violation of the First Amendment.
The main point of controversy came in 2013, with Edward Snowden’s release of the NSA’s overstep. He uncovered that secret courts gave the NSA permission to take the phone records of millions of Americans in the form of metadata. He also uncovered that the NSA could request access to the servers of tech companies. These companies technically don’t have to, but are legally compelled to comply. This information was shocking to the world, as the public didn’t know this was happening. This sparked the reform debate in 2015.
Department of Homeland Security
The Department of Homeland Security is a cabinet-level branch of the federal government that began as a direct result of 9/11. Its job is to “secure the nation from [any] threats we face.” With such an ambiguous duty, it’s no surprise that they have often come under scrutiny. They are notoriously wasteful, as audits have revealed they’ve wasted nearly $15 billion in failed contracts. They have even been accused of misusing government credit cards. This doesn’t begin to touch on its civil liberties overreach, however.
Homeland Security uses a system called ADVISE as a data mining tool. This first came under fire after being used on regular individuals without proper privacy measures in place. It was also discovered that it’s not very effective, and usually misidentifies people as terroristic threats. Hand-in-hand with the last point, centers of terrorism prevention called Fusion Centers are notorious for misidentifying people as terrorist threats. They have also been known to be used for unintended purposes, mainly spying on individuals that don’t need to be spied on.
All in all, the DHS is not only a threat to the civil liberties of Americans. It’s also a prime example of government bureaucracy and wasteful spending. It’s an unnecessary branch of the federal government that was only put in place because of 9/11.
Guantanamo Bay and the Abuse of Enemy Prisoners
Guantanamo Bay was set up as a detention center for terrorists in early 2002. The executive branch of the federal government claims the camp was set up in a part of Cuba. This would mean it’s not subject to typical American laws, the laws of the prisoners’ respective countries, or the Geneva Convention. They claimed the prisoners were receiving fair treatment. However, they came under heavy criticism when reports surfaced that prisoners were being both physically and sexually abused.
The main controversies surrounding the facility were not only where the prisoners unlawfully abused. Some were held without ever being charged for a crime. Prisoners were waterboarded, beaten, forced to engage in sexual activities, and force-fed. President Obama called for the detention center to be shut down in 2009. Yet, it’s still open today.
Modern Day Tyrannical Government
Historically, dictatorships have arisen in times of crisis. From the Romans to Abraham Lincoln to FDR, the strength and size of the government drastically increase during difficult times for the country. September 11 was not an exception. The government took new measures and violated technological rights of the people. This was a practice that hadn’t been seen before to this point. While the effects of government spying are always present in our lives, the ones that are a result of 9/11 are probably the most prevalent in this age of technology.
It is important on this day of reflection and remembrance to realize that we the people cannot allow our rights to be given up in times of hardship. As Ben Franklin said, “Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.” We live in a reality where we are always subject to be watched or listened to. It’s scary and troubling to think about a constant state of government monitoring, yet most accept it without batting an eyelash. A common phrase we hear is “if you have nothing to hide then you have nothing to worry about.” This simply isn’t true. We shouldn’t be okay with giving up our rights in order for “protection” from the government. We must remember the American values in times of crisis, and refuse to relinquish our essential liberties.
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