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The role of government surveillance in national security has been an prolonged issue in our country. We face a question: is the violation of our privacy really worth the security that could potentially be provided? The beginnings of our current government surveillance come from the Patriot Act, passed after 9/11, which granted the president the power to fight the “War on Terror”. The Bush Administration used these powers to spy on Al-Qaeda through the NSA electronic surveillance program. The Patriot Act allowed the NSA to freely intercept information without the need for a warrant, so they began wiretapping the communications of suspected terrorists in and out of the country. In addition, section 215 of the Patriot Act allowed the government to order records or any “tangible things” that have information they need, as long as they tell the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court that the information will be used for a terrorist investigation. These events gave the NSA power to spy on people without needing a warrant, as long as they say it’s to prevent acts of terror, like 9/11, from happening again. Although some may say that government surveillance, specifically that performed by the NSA, is needed to provide national security, it is evident that the negative effects of government spying, such as the invasion of personal privacy, outweigh the benefits; therefore, the NSA should have its powers abated and fundings reduced.
Some say that what the NSA is doing is crucial to the safety of the American public; these people will argue that giving up some privacy is necessary to keep American citizens safe. However, there is no real evidence that the NSA has done anything to prevent a terrorist attack. The National Privacy board released a report, stating that they have not “identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the program made a concrete difference in the outcome” (Perez, 1). The report also states that they have only identified one terrorist in the last seven years, and that law enforcement would have found the suspect anyways. In another article, it’s reported that the US intelligence budget in 2012 was $75 billion, with $10 billion going to the NSA (Sahadi, 1). The NSA has a very high cost to function. They require billions in taxpayer money and the invasion of people’s lives, yet they yield little to no visible results in national security. People argue that, even though the NSA has failed to produce visible results, they are still working to protect the American public; if they had prevented an attack, they wouldn’t release classified information on what had happened. However, even with all this surveillance occurring, acts of terrorism, like the Boston Bombing and other shootings, still occur. Keeping the NSA running at its current strength is just not justified.
Furthermore, what the NSA is doing is completely unconstitutional. The NSA’s collection of bulk metadata goes against the Fourth Amendment, which protects the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures”. Wiretapping allows the NSA to collect phone metadata secretly, without a warrant, which they can hold for an indefinite amount of time. Wiretapping can occur to anyone, for little or no reason. If the NSA suspects a person of being a terrorist, they can just tap into the person’s communications. Additionally, the Fourth Amendment states that evidence obtained through unlawful search cannot be introduced in court. Since the information collected through wiretapping goes against our Constitutional rights, it should be classified as unlawfully obtained information. If the NSA can’t use information that they receive from spying, what’s the point to even spying at all? People may ask, well, then how is the NSA operating legally if what they do is against the Constitution? The NSA operated on the claim that no one could prove that they were spying and collecting data, until Snowden released classified documents, which gave people insight on what they NSA does. People has since then challenged the legality of NSA operations, which then the court has ruled legal because people have no “legitimate expectation of privacy” and that “every day, people voluntarily surrender personal and seemingly private information to trans-national corporations, which exploit that data for profit” (Smith, 1). These claims by the court don’t have legal support, and still doesn’t address the Constitutionality of NSA operations.
In addition, NSA surveillance on the American public may lead to much more than just the invasion of our privacy. Although the NSA cannot use information they have acquired through spying to do anything on American soil, they can act on foreign soil. The NSA intercepts communications that might point out potential terrorists, which directly influences the targets for drone strikes. Potential terrorists had been targeted and killed by drone strikes had been used in the Middle East. On February 10th, 2014, the Obama administration debated whether or not to authorize a drone strike against an American citizen living in Pakistan, who was suspected of plotting terrorist attacks (Mazzetti, 1). Communication interceptions and other means of spying were used by the NSA to determine whether or not said citizen should be added on the drone hit-list. If he or she gets added to the hit-list, they will simply be eliminated. Even as an American citizen, he or she won’t even be able to have a fair trial to prove his or her innocence. People who are targeted are just killed without another word. This shows that the NSA has too much power and influence. They have the power to take down any American citizen suspected of terrorism, and if abused, this power could lead to assassinations using drones. This is the level of power that the NSA has right now. If we let them continue down this path, it may be impossible to stop them in the future.
With the power of sending drones after potential terrorists also comes the responsibility to prevent collateral damage. When a drone goes in for the kill, a missile is fired to kill the target. But, a lot of times, the targeted person isn’t the only one that will die. The explosion from the drone strikes cause extra damage as well. The Bureau of Investigative Journalism reports that from June 2004 through mid-September 2012 “drone strikes killed 2,562 – 3,325 people in Pakistan, of whom 474 – 881 were civilians, including 176 children.” In addition, they report that these strikes also injured an additional 1,228 – 1,362 individuals (CNN Staff, 1). What the NSA does leads to these drone strikes, so the very least they should be taking responsibility to prevent collateral damage and extraneous death.
For these reasons, the NSA’s powers should not only be curbed, but there should be a full scale investigation into the operations of the NSA to determine whether or not they have abused their power. This is needed in order to set a precedent for future surveillance programs, and to prevent the possibility of this situation arising again in the future.
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