HGov: Rights and the War on Terror


NSA-SurveillanceIn the war on terror, things have been changing. The National Security Agency was created in 1952. It is charged with breaking enemy codes and eavesdroppping on suspicious communications around the world. They sift through intercepted communications, searching for patterns, contacts with suspicious persons, and other red flags that would signal terrorist plotting, espionage, and other threats against the United States. Americans have always accepted the need to spy on those who might be to the country. However, they have also been reluctant to allow espionage agencies to operate unchecked. The zeal to catch foreign plotters evolved into a determination to apprehend American criminals and in turn lead to surveillance of innocent Americans. Since the 1960s and early 70s, agencies have been prohibited by law from monitoring Americans without obtaining a warrant from a secret federal court established exclusively to handle such cases. In 2005, the New York Times revealed that the NSA had been wiretapping communications between American citizens and foreigners abroad without obtaining a warrant. In 2007, Congress passed and the president signed an act temporarily allowing warrantless surveillance directed at a person reasonably believed to be outside the United States. Is this kind of monitoring acceptable? For some, NSA eavesdropping is an essential and appropriate response to a significant threat. To others, the new measures represented an infringement on the rights of individuals driven by a desire to respond to public demands for security. We place such debates in a larger constitutional context by describing civil liberties under the U.S. Constitution.

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