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National Security vs. Civil Liberties

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    Abstract

    In the history of America, there are several events when national security and civil liberties were challenged. Today, the same thing are happening as an effect of the 9/11 terrorist attack. This paper will explore why national security and civil liberties conflicted.

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    National Security vs. Civil Liberties

    Introduction

                After America was liberated from the British colonies, they were liberated from control as well. In almost all memorable events in American history, fight for freedom was the common goal. Every individual and class of people then struggled for their liberties from government control. The fight never stopped until each citizen were guaranteed freedom.

                In the fundamental law of land there are various provisions granting each citizen rights and privileges. This includes, among others, the right to privacy. In many cases that have been decided by the Supreme Court, civil liberties were upheld as superior among any other governmental action. This includes, among others, right to privacy and freedom from government interventions. However, this freedom which has been long before protected by the Constitution is on the verge of destruction. Right after the unforgettable and destructive 9/11 terrorist attack, the administration initiated, at once, programs and other means to repel the terrorism. For reasons of national security, President Bush enacted the USA Patriot Act. However, it was opposed by many due to the detrimental effect it had to the citizen’s civil liberties.

    Body

                In a democratic country, like US, citizens are armed by civil liberties that protect them from governmental pressures and unwarranted action. More than that these civil liberties are granted to citizens that they may freely enjoy during their existence in a free country. Civil liberties are indeed the essences of democracy. Meanwhile civil liberties refer to “the rights enjoyed by individual over and against government” (Walker, 2004, p.1). It is also the free society’s fundamental element. The fundamental law of the land highly recognizes these rights as it is embodied in First through Tenth Amendment. The Fist Amendment grants the people’s right to expression and religion as it states,

                Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the      free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right      of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of         grievances. (Find Law for Legal Professionals, 2008).

                Another important provision guaranteeing civil liberty is the Fourth Amendment, which states;

                The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects,    against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants           shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and           particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized      (Find Law for Legal Professionals, 2008).

                In addition, civil liberties also encompass the privilege against self- incrimination contained in Fifth Amendment (Find Law for Legal Professionals, 2008). Federal law also protects these civil liberties by virtue of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Walker, 2004, p.11). Moreover, state and local laws also recognize and protect the individual rights of the citizens. Generally, these civil liberties being enjoyed by every citizen incorporate the freedoms of assembly, of press, of religion, of speech, of privacy, freedom against discrimination among others.

                Since civil liberties are very essential to man’s existence, they are actively protected by some interest group like the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), American Conservative Union, Cato Institute, Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR) among others (Howard, 2004, p. 5). The ACLU has been named as the nation’s guardian of liberty as it focuses on defending and preserving the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by the Constitution and laws to all citizens of USA (Howard, 2004, p. 5)

                Accordingly, most cases decided by the Supreme Court, these civil liberties were upheld as against any other governmental actions. Many federal and state laws were invalidated because it somehow curtailed some of the civil liberties of the petitioners. The very controversial Pentagon paper was published despite the national security issue being invoked by the government (403 U.S. 713). In the said case, majority opinion sided with the rights of New York Times and other publications of their right to press and of access to public documents over the impeding threat to national security as asserted by the government (403 U.S. 713). Notably after the private and top secret documents, containing the real American soldiers situation in the US- Vietnam War,  were published former President Nixon resigned from office (403 U.S. 713). In this case, the Supreme Court proved how powerful civil liberties are.

                 However, at the height of the 9/11 terrorist attack, these civil liberties being enjoyed and preserved by the nation are on the brink of distortion and being threatened from legal government actions. Due to the innocent lives that were lost at the corrosion of the twin tower and the incessant and threatening bombings, the administration shifted their focus in ensuring national security. The 9/11 has left America devastated and provoked. In order to prevent further acts of terrorism, the government used all means to track and punish the terrorists. Right after the 9/11 attacks, the administration, through John Ashcroft, aggressively arrested almost 2,000 men accused of perpetrating the attack (The Atlantic, 2008). This step also included the circumvention of the accused to their right to counsel and they were further tried by military tribunals. From here, it can be observed that the rights and privileges of the accused were violated by the administration in its move to locate the criminals.

                The government has also intensified its military might and set up border patrols to ensure that terrorist will no enter countries that are targeted by the terrorists (Khan, Terrorism and Globalization). In addition, airlines were monitored to ensure that no terrorist entered the territory. Underlying this is the establishment of new rules such as VISA regulation and strict monitoring of foreign travellers (Khan, Terrorism and Globalization). Through this, airline businesses were greatly affected because number of travellers declined. Moreover, bank transactions involving big amount of money were monitored on the ground that it might be used to finance terrorist activities. A mandatory scrutinization of banks was applied leading to the slowing down of the flow of capital (Khan, Terrorism and Globalization). Under this strategy, the right to privacy of the bank customers are jeopardized.

                Furthermore, every Arab and Muslims were highly scrutinized before they can travel or transact in banks or in other government agencies. They were also most likely being attributed to terrorism. By this alone, the Muslims and Arabs are being discriminated on account of race. Most importantly, the government aggressively sent its soldiers to Afghanistan and Iraq to eradicate those suspected terrorists. Eventually, this war of the nation became a global war. All these efforts were executed for reason of national security.

                 Another important move that the government adopted to curb terrorism is the ratification of the USA Patriot Act also known as “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001” barely five weeks after the 9/11 (Scheppler, 2005, p.4). By virtue of this act, the governmental agencies are granted with powers which are beyond their normal functions. The act also created new federal offices, task forces, or bureaus, and appropriate or authorizes billions of dollars in spending (Michaels, 2002, p.31). In addition, a new status for federal, state, and local enforcement personnel as investigators of terrorist threats and protectors of the civilian population from the spectre of terrorism is secured (Michaels, 2002, p.32). The national law enforcement and equipments, including communications and surveillance procedures, were improved (Michaels and Bergen). Moreover, any information taken through extensive information gathering, which are related to terrorism, can be disclosed by courts, government lawyers, and intelligence agencies (Electronic Privacy Information Center, 2001). The immigrants are also not excused from the act because their movements will be monitored.

                The scope of the Patriot Act included various existing federal laws, specifically those dealing with foreign intelligence surveillance, criminal offenses, national security, immigration, and banking (Michaels, 2002, p.31). The act also amended the crime laws and the rules by which the federal courts applied in dealing criminal cases. This act has indeed widened the scope of every agency and made it more powerful in the name of national security.

                Nevertheless, no matter how noble its purpose, it is being criticized for threatening the civil liberties. Through the Patriot Act, citizens and noncitizens will be detained immediately upon suspicion or charges of terrorist acts (Sidel, 2007, p.1). The citizen’s right to privacy is also being feared due to the enhanced surveillances, data gathering and profiling of American citizens and nonresident aliens (Sidel, 2007, p.3). Moreover, the act would result to restriction on use and release of official informations, limited access to American society, and a tightened social environment for all (Sidel, 2007, p.3). In addition, bank transactions are not secured of confidentiality. Immigrants as well as travellers will be under a strict scrutiny and extensive monitoring. Furthermore, many will be subjected to unjustifiable criminal prosecutions and probable cases of self- incrimination. Thus, through the act, the civil liberties being enjoyed by the citizens will likely be impaired.

                At present, the conflict of between the national security and civil liberties is prevalent. However, the government insist all measures possible to dispel and prevent terrorism. They insist that terrorism this day is graver than previous terrorism. The government highly considers the possibility that there are still terrorists and rearing children within the US territory, who are just hiding from excellent impersonation like ordinary citizens. And the need for a tighter government surviellance is justified (France and Green, Commentary: Security vs. Civil Liberties). The civil liberties of the people are compromised because national security is given paramount importance. Because every citizen needs security, especially those who have witnessed the horrific 9/11 bombing, the civil liberties will have to subordinate to anti- terrorist measures. Despite the oppositions and criticisms from several groups, like ACLU, the government action towards terrorism is firm, but will respect the civil liberties and the national security as well. As what Attorney General John Ashcroft said, “The American people can be assured law enforcement will use these new tools to protect our nation while upholding the sacred liberties expressed in the Constitution” (Tyler, The Patriot Act).

    Conclusion

                Security and liberty are two most important things for a man living in a democratic world. The unsure security would distract man’s activities in the conduct of his personal and public affairs. Liberty, on the other hand will able him to act according to what he likes without any intervention or control from anybody else, especially from the government. However, when an event arises, one must pave the way for the other. The 9/11 terrorist attack is unforgettable, not only because of horrifying memory it left but also because it has led to the conflict between national security and civil liberties.

    References

    Electronic Privacy Information Center. (2001). The U.S.A. Patriot Act. Retrieved July 7, 2008, from http://epic.org/privacy/terrorism/hr3162.html

    Find Law for Legal Professionals. (2008). U.S. Constitution: Fourth Amendment. Retrieved July 9, 2008 from http://caselaw.lp.findlaw.com/data/constitution/amendment04/

    France, M. & Green, H. Business Week. (2001, October 1). Commentary: Security vs. Civil Liberties. Retrieved July 9, 2008, from http://www.businessweek.com/magazine/content/01_40/b3751724.htm

    Howard, B. (2004). The USA Patriot Act of 2001: Balancing Civil Liberties and National Security. California: ABC-CLIO.

    Khan, M. Glocal Eye. (2008). Terrorism and Globalization. Retrieved July 9, 2008, from http://www.glocaleye.org/terglo.htm

    Michaels, W. (2002). No greater threat: America after September 11 And the Rise of a National Security State. New York: Algora Publishing.

    Michaels, W. and Van Bergen, J. Truthout. The Usa Patriot Act: One Year Later

    Part I. Retrieved July 7,2008, from http://www.truthout.org/docs_02/11.15D.jvb.cm.usapa.1.htm

    Scheppler, B. (2005). The USA Patriot ACT: Antiterror Legislation in Response to 9/11. New York: The Rosen Publishing Group.

    Sidel, M. (2007). More secure, less free?: Antiterrorism Policy & Civil Liberties After September 11. University of Michigan Press.

    Lavin, T. The Atlantic. (2002, February 6). Security Versus Civil Liberties. Retrieved July 9, 2008, from http://www.theatlantic.com/unbound/flashbks/liberties.htm

    Tyler, P. PBS.org. (2003, February 12). The Patriot Act. Retrieved July 10, 2008, from http://www.pbs.org/newshour/extra/features/jan-june03/patriot.html

    Walker, S. (2004). Civil Liberties in America: A Reference Handbook. California: ABC-CLIO.

     

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