In the wake of national tragedies, governments tend to take action without thinking about the future consequences of those actions or whether they would be effective in stopping a future, similar tragedy. For example, the United States passed the PATRIOT Act in the wake of 9/11 which was a direct assault on all American citizens’ Fourth Amendment right to privacy. Since implementation, multiple studies have shown it was useless in stopping future terrorist attacks.
On October 26th, 2001,George W. Bush signed into law The Patriot Act, which was written in the wake of the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks and has been obscuring the rights of American and foreign citizens ever since. The Patriot Act is a “security law” which tremendously broadened the search and surveillance powers of the United States government,allowing law enforcement to access the emails, phone calls, browsing history, and spending habits of private citizens all in the name of counter-terrorism. According to the United States government, the future possibility of danger outweighs the ongoing and present subjugation of the rights to privacy and personal autonomy.
To restrict any citizen’s freedoms requires a very good reason, and for some, the “threat of terrorism” is enough. But with this agreed idea in mind, a few things need to be at the forefront of the conversation. Is there a clear and present danger relating to terrorism which is persistent enough to warrant the restriction of rights? Is the possibility of an attack enough to warrant the restriction of rights? Does The Patriot Act work in practice? And is The Patriot Act moral in theory?
Going into 2019, the political scene has undergone massive change. Following the 2018 midterms, in which the Democrat Party regained a majority in the House of Representatives, tensions have been rising. The president allowed the government to shut down over the lack of funding for his border wall. He also is already threatening to potentially do it again on February 15th. Needless to say, relations in the government are poor. This leads me to ask: What are some policy goals that the country can still pass in this political environment?
1. Criminal Justice Reform
Of course, the First Step Act did just pass. However, this is just the beginning; to assume that one bill can fix a system as bloated and broken as ours is absurd. The First Step Act, as the name implies, is a “first step” to solve our problems.
We still need to take dramatic moves in the prison system. Some things to keep in mind should be:
Abolishing mandatory minimums
Focusing less on punishments such as solitary and more on rehabilitation programs
Cracking down on officer malfeasance towards prisoners
2. Pull Troops Out of Military Conflict
The President stunned many, including me, when he abruptly announced he was pulling troops out of Afghanistan and Syria. The non-hawkish American population was ecstatic. Now, the only thing we need to do is hold him to it.
Mixed statements from several other Trump Administration officials have openly contradicted the President’s own words. It is Congress’s and our duty to hold the President to his words and bring our troops home.
3. End Government Spying
It often seems like the United States government outright ignores the 4th Amendment. Agencies like the NSA and FBI have made the illegal spying of American citizens commonplace. All accountability is lost when you are not aware of your own government’s actions.
The Patriot Act and FISA courts require, at the least, massive reforms. Ideally, we should move to abolish them, but this is not necessarily likely. Regardless, you have an inherent right to reasonable amounts of privacy.
Term limits are the most reasonable policy to enact in the United States right now. Virtually everyone that you talk to, regardless of political persuasions, believe that some sort of limitation is necessary.
Besides just getting old, crazy politicians out of office, term limits get new ideas in Washington, stop the constant fight for reelection, and partially get money-tied politicians out of the spotlight.
The Supreme Court’s 1995 decision essentially deeming term limits unconstitutional does make things complicated, but not impossible. The way forward for this plan is a rare but necessary constitutional amendment.
5. Federal Legalization of Marijuana
Let’s be honest, it’s bound to happen sometime soon.
I don’t need to go on a diatribe to inform you of the benefits of marijuana legalization. The economic, social, and political changes that would form are life-changing.
It’s about time that we let adults make their own decisions; whether it be to drink, gamble or smoke weed. As long as you’re not hurting your neighbor, freedom is absolute.
71 Republic is the Third Voice in media. We pride ourselves on distinctively independent journalism and editorials. Every dollar you give helps us grow our mission of providing reliable coverage. Please consider donating to our Patreon.
“Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.” This is a notorious quote by Benjamin Franklin, useful in many arguments advocating for liberty. Commonly, gun advocates use it to oppose gun control However, there are many other situations where this quote is appropriate. For example, it is also pertinent while advocating against government surveillance. Supposedly, surveillance is “purchasing” a little bit of temporary safety: a very small amount, in trade for our liberty.
An Insignificant Statistic
A common argument in favor of government surveillance is that it supposedly protects us from terrorists. But according to Business Insider, since 9/11, only six Americans have died per year from Islamic terrorists, both foreign and domestic. The article also provides a handy chart comparing the probability of this to other causes of death.
As you can see, there are many obscure causes of death that are far more probable. So no, this should not be a concern of the general public in the first place. In any other situation, such an insignificant number would be laughable.
UN: U.S. Government Surveillance Is Symbolic
While talking about the practicality of surveillance, even the UN has stated that it is essentially a show of gesture-politics, rather than result-oriented. Or in other words, the UN states that government surveillance is based more on symbolism and symbolic gestures rather than a good outcome. And as for the ‘results’ surveillance does come with:
“[The FBI general counsel] defined as useful those [leads] that made a substantive contribution to identifying a terrorist, or identifying a potential confidential informant. Just 1.2 percent of them fit that category.”
Thus, surveillance does not protect us from terrorists nearly as much as supporters would like you to believe. Yet, there are still some clear detriments that surveillance allows for.
For example, many oppressive regimes use mass surveillance on their citizens, much like in the U.S. In many cases, they claim to care for security and the good of the people. But some countries that practice this include North Korea, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba. Clearly, the good of the people can be a lie.
In the modern day, in fact, mass surveillance systems are quite popular among authoritarian regimes. Regardless of whether you would classify the U.S. as authoritarian, its government has certainly increased intervention in the lives of citizens. Surely, this in itself is a concerning realization.
Going beyond simple ineffectiveness and harmful effects, it is also worth examining the morals of government surveillance. Although we hear surveillance is for our own good, many Americans would disagree. In fact, 57% say it is wrong for the government to monitor its own citizens.
A common argument for surveillance is ‘if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about.’
Funny. This quote sounds awfully familiar. It’s almost like it was propaganda for another authoritarian regime. Yes, that’s right: Nazi Minister Joseph Goebbels used the line to pacify Germans in 1933.
Edward Snowden, a man notorious for exposing NSA records, also has an intriguing quote against government surveillance. He states the following: “Arguing that you don’t care about the right to privacy because you have nothing to hide is no different than saying you don’t care about free speech because you have nothing to say.”
He is spot on with this quote; the ‘nothing to hide’ argument is deeply flawed.
Protecting your information from the government has a number of parallels. Would you want your private texts, emails and phone calls to be available to co-workers you don’t know? No, of course not. The majority of people would agree that this is an invasion of privacy.
Government action is hardly different. One of the only things dissimilar, in fact, is that the government can act upon what you do and say, potentially harming you for nonviolent action. This is far more dangerous. Obviously, many of us get weirded out when somebody leans over our shoulder to view our texts. This is what is happening in our government, but at mass levels.
The Right to Privacy
You also do not need a reason to exercise a right in order for it to exist. For example, the 1st Amendment protects the right to assemble, even if you do not feel you need it. Perhaps you will never feel the need to assemble publicly. However, this does not give the state the right to take that ability away from you. The same goes for privacy. Whether or not you ‘need’ privacy is irrelevant: it is always wrong to take it away.
Our government is stripping our liberties, especially privacy. For what? Essentially nothing. If anything, government surveillance allows the state to take further control over our lives. Perhaps it’s time to get more serious about our right to privacy and take a stand.
71 Republic prides itself on distinctively independent journalism and editorials. Every dollar you give helps us grow our mission of providing reliable coverage. Please consider donating to our Patreon, which you can find here. Thank you very much for your support!
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.
To support 71 Republic, please donate to our Patreon, which you can find here.