Civil Liberties and Government Surveillance

Given the expansion how much of the public’s information can be collected and analyzed by government entities due to powers afforded by the controversial USA PATRIOT Act, my research will focus on the government’s expansion of surveillance and the various instances of civil liberties infringements by the government. I will specifically focus on the world of privacy, but also in other areas like pure freedom of religion or speech. The need to understand how the government manages information collected through these programs and the implications this possesses for future government powers becomes increasingly imperative in the modern world.

In light of the recent revelations of NSA operations by Edward Snowden, much of the scholarship surrounding government surveillance has reemerged and captured a greater share of American attention that the original PATRIOT did. Scholars particularly argue the government’s covert manner of passing the PATRIOT act, as they capitalized upon the chaos surrounding 9-11, as the entire nation desperately searched for any measures to prevent any similar attacks in the future. Alongside this, scholars argue that the vague nature of language in describing both the 9-11 attacks and subsequent terrorist threats, as well as within the law itself, provided a dangerous precedent for the expansion of government surveillance as without direct mention of a threat, the argument could be created that data collection would always be necessary. Unsurprisingly, the NSA has used this very argument in court to gain an expansion of their data amassing abilities and receive backing from the powerful courts. While any sort of surveillance brings to question the infringement of privacy, a civil liberty implicitly derived from the constitution, the more contentious and ambivalent question is whether this is a necessary component to ensure national security.

Through my research, I hope to expand on this topic by opening discussion on often neglected aspect of established government powers, the precedent set by such powers being granted. More specifically, I wish to posit that the continued compliance with government surveillance creates a precedent and portal for other civil liberties to be violated. Examples of this include cases like racial and ethnic profiling and treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. Could it be the case that our subordination to spying provides a form of acquittal for future civil rights transgressions by government agencies?


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