Balancing National Security and Civil Liberties

U.S. policy makers have struggled to strike a balance between national security and civil liberties long before September 11th. However, the tragedy that occurred on 9/11 brought the debate front and center. Prior to 9/11, government agencies accessed individuals’ private records. The FBI, citing national security concerns, gained access to private records with a simple letter requesting phone companies or banks for the account information of any suspected individual.

Since 9/11, the rules regarding accessing information have been further eased with national security at stake. With the implementation of the USA Patriot Act, the U.S. government can now request access to entire databases without explanation. The overriding rationale is to give the government the ability to investigate and search for terrorist suspects and thus prevent future terrorist attacks. Today, national security agencies actively compare the activities of millions with terrorist profiling data from databases in its possession. Supporters of the USA Patriot Act and similar legislation believe that actions are justified to protect the lives of Americans. Critics argue that these actions infringe too much on civil liberties.

To prepare for this Discussion:

  • Review Chapter 7 of your course text Introduction to Homeland Security. Reflect on the balance between security and freedom.
  • Review the article “National Security versus Civil Liberties.” Focus on how the U.S. government controls information post-9/11. Also, examine the author’s arguments concerning post-9/11 restrictions on civil liberties, limited rights to due process, and the issue of privacy and government surveillance.
  • Review Chapters 4 and 5 from the video “Spying on the Home Front.” Think about whether the use of private database information is necessary to protect homeland security.
  • Reflect on your position on the proper balance between security and civil liberties.
  • Think about what trade-offs you feel are acceptable and are not acceptable to protect national security.

With these thoughts in mind:

Post by Day 4 your position on the proper balance between security and civil liberties. Include an explanation of what trade-offs might be involved. Justify your position and use specific examples.

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