One of the issues that have garnered massive media attention is terrorism. Terrorists have attacked various places causing massive loss of human life and property. The September 11 attack on America signalled to its administration that it had to re-examine its security policies. It believed that the attack was instigated by its ignominy to control the security situation in within its jurisdiction and undoubtedly the citizens’ overprotection by the constitution. The government made a decision to severely scrutinize the citizens. The previous privacy that the 4th constitutional amendment granted the Americans was later disregarded and president bush took it to himself to protect the homeland. Various legislations such as USA PATRIOT and HAS were enacted to enable the mining of information from citizens predominantly those who posed threats to national security. The Americans did not take it easy. Substantial public turmoil was witnessed but the government became oblivious and continued with its mission.
The 9/11 terrorist attack against the U.S’s twin towers is remarkably taken as the deadliest attack ever and marked a turning point in American justice system. The blow and dismay resulting from the lethal terrorism offenses of September 11, 2001 led to key legitimate alterations in America that challenged essential civil freedoms and statutory rights (ADAM LIPTAK, 2011).
Prior to the 9/11 attack, the fourth amendment clearly enshrined in the American constitution used to guard the “right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures" (ADAM LIPTAK, 2011). According to the amendment, warrants that are supported by probable cause must be issued before any searches and annexations are conducted. According to the act, personal phone calls including those made in public telephone booths were a private affair and no one was supposed to interfere or eavesdrop. The 4th amendment required that seizure or searches can only be conducted with the consensus of the two parties involved and any of such seizures must be legally accepted and supported by concrete reasons (CounterPunch, 2014). The consent must not have resulted from duress or coercion but must have developed from freewill. Additionally, people were not required to provide any information regarding them or others unless they decide to willingly volunteer the information.
The 4th amendment specifies that no irrational seizures and searches in a civil lawsuit context. A search may only be piloted if it is motivated by individualized suspicion (May & Army, 2011). Generalised searches are prohibited unless unusual conditions place the community in danger. The 4th amendment empowered an individual to take legal actions in situations where they feel their privacy has been compromised unreasonably or unnecessarily (Dycus, 2011). The plaintiff could obtain damages for the offence unlawful intrusion of their right to privacy.
However, after the 9/11 attack the 4th amendment started being challenged and many Americans perceived it as an act of compromising their liberties. The congress and the president enacted legislation to reinforce the intelligence-gathering society’s capability to fight internal terrorism. The act is known as USA PATRIOT Act. To a large extend, it appeared that this Act was weakening the 4th amendment in a bid to strengthen internal security and prevent any future attacks. The USA PATRIOT Act allows law implementation agencies to search the library, financial and medical records of any individual within the states jurisdiction. Additionally, telephone and email conversations or communication could now be investigated without the consent of the persons involved in the conversation. Americans did not take it cool (Dycus, 2011). They complained of the government’s interference with their private life. However, a few who properly understood the devastating effects that the 9/11 attack had brought to the Americans supported the change hoping it would change the overall state of security.
Moreover, the act extended the exercise of using National Sanctuary Mails which are governmental orders that oblige specific companies, persons or groups to provide documents that contained information about other people. The letters were administrative subpoenas and carried gag orders. Under this Act, law enforcement agencies and officers have the sole right to use subpoenas to investigate citizens even when the individual does not seem to have committed any crime (CounterPunch, 2014). The officers might also require any individual to provide certain information from time to time. This Act was seen as contradicting the 4th amendment. Freedom from seizure and search was no longer guaranteed.
Intelligence and government agents were allowed broad powers to mole on citizens without proof of any crime, keep legal proceedings secret, conduct clandestine pursuits and wiretaps, involve in indigenous profiling and monitor people’s communication. These changes came up due to the enactment of administrative law memos, executive orders, the USA PATRIOT Act and vocal executive branch instructions. As a developed democracy, the various changes to the 4th amendment were considered by many as not being enough to curb terrorism. In many developed democracies of America’s calibre, defensive imprisonment and limitations on dissident speech were already ordinary.
As America was in the process of healing from the terrorism attack, HSA (Homeland Security Act) was pressed through the legislature. Outrageously, the HSA was meant to "organize a government that is fractured, divided and under-prepared to handle the all-important task of defending our great nation from terrorist attack” (9-11 Research, 2008). Passed on 25th November 2002, the Act consolidated over 20 federal agencies into a single department in charge of managing security affairs. This is taken as the greatest dramatic reform of the federal government since 1947 when President Truman created the security department.
However, the HSA was strongly objected by civil liberties organizations (9-11 Research, 2008). It was characterised by 3 upsetting trends; increased state power, secrecy, reduced privacy and reinforced government fortification of exceptional interests. The Information Awareness Office (IAO) was created. It was taken as the most controversial provisions of the HSA. John Poindexter was placed in charge of the IAO. Among his remarkable achievements, is the creation of three hundred million computer dossiers that served as repositories for data mined from private and public sources. The files would help in obtaining and storing information obtained from personal medical histories, education, transactions, communication and public registers including FBI and CIA (9-11 Research, 2008). Poindexter was also planning to formulate and implement facial recognition technologies. Poindexter and the IAO were seen as clearly working against the 4th amendment that guaranteed Americans the right to privacy (Dycus, 2011).
The American government later started realizing that it was greatly violating the 4th amendment. On 23rd January 2003, the congress decided to cut budgetary allocations for IAO. However, the congress legalised the continual use of data mining machineries by acumen agencies but not within America’s borders. Civil liberties organizations staged a fight against the HSA as it was clearly contradicting the stipulations of the Sunshine Act that allowed only open meetings by allowing the Presidential Advisory boards to hold secret meetings without providing the purpose of such meetings (9-11 Research, 2008).
The government convinced the Americans that the HSA originated from the 9/11 terrorist attack. The CIS held on the "Rule By Secrecy" while the CIA’s who populated president Bush’s administration advised it to continue with the interference of personal privacy for the purpose of ensuring that national security is not compromised. Dick Cheney, the Vice President, is quoted having said, "We created the Department of Homeland Security, brought together 180,000 federal employees from 22 agencies, for a single purpose: to better protect America" (ADAM LIPTAK, 2011). Remarkably, American activists offered a critical analysis of the HSA. They identified that it endangered the 4th amendment and weakened a dozen of privacy laws. As people continued arguing about the justification of the HSA, some people held that the post-9/11 climate validates these impositions since the President requires the suppleness and freedom to defend the state.
In 2003, the US Circuit Court of Appeals supported the government’s authority to reserve information about south Asians and Muslims secretly detained for months after the 9/11 attack caused a public outcry. The unlawfully detained citizens were forced to offer very confidential information while the government had the right to keep secret lots of information regarding the suspects (9-11 Research, 2008). It was a clear indication that the 4th amendment was no longer taken into consideration, and democracy was dying behind locked doors. This permissible government privacy chiefly under military and paranoid driven administrations presented a legal and political issue that the American Supreme Court needs to challenge. Americans desire to regain their right to privacy and access to accurate information about the administration’s actions.
As explicated above, the 9/11 attack marked a rotary point not only in American antiquity but also in its legal system. The attack prompted legislation that seemed to challenge the 4th amendment that guaranteed the Americans the right to privacy. The 4th amendment was largely compromised and authorities are forcing individuals to provide information that might be considered to be confidential. Americans are currently being seized and searched unnecessarily with no state laws to protect them (CounterPunch, 2014). Disgracefully, many innocent Americans and immigrants have suffered unnecessarily due to the state’s decision to disregard the 4th amendment. Since the attack, criminal law has stretched, entrapping people who have provided humanitarian aid to needy individuals as terrorists especially those belonging to the Muslim community. The state should reconsider upholding 4th amendment and suppressing other Acts such as USA PATRIOT and HSA hence safeguarding the right to privacy. This will help in building a synchronized society. The 4th amendment that Obama’s administration has made obsolete should be revitalized.
9-11 Research: The Homeland Security Act. (2008, April). Retrieved April 12, 2014, from http://911research.wtc7.net/post911/legislation/hsa.html
ADAM LIPTAK (2011). The 9/11 Decade - Civil Liberties, Before and After - NYTimes.com. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from http://www.nytimes.com/2011/09/07/us/sept-11-reckoning/civil.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0
CounterPunch (2014). Civil Liberties After September 11 » CounterPunch: Tells the Facts, Names the Names. Retrieved April 12, 2014, from http://www.counterpunch.org/2003/07/11/civil-liberties-after-september-11/
Dycus, S. (2011). National security law. New York: Wolters Kluwer Law & Business.
May, D. W., & Army War College (U.S.) (2012). Tapping into the wiretap debate. Carlisle Barracks, PA: U.S. Army War College.