Defending Our Civil Liberties
Bush’s plans to monitor citizens and foreign nationals threatens our right to privacy
Two new policies created under the Bush administration threaten our fundamental right to privacy. The first would give the administration the freedom to monitor and interrogate any or all Iraqis or Iraqi-American dual citizens living in the United States. The second would allow the government to collect individual consumer information gathered by the private sector to create profiles of citizens to identify potential terrorists. In the pursuit of national security, the Bush administration has shown a blatant disregard for the protection of civil liberties.
In the event of war with Iraq, the administration fears domestic terrorist attacks from Iraqi sympathizers residing in the United States. To investigate potential threats, the administration has recruited a coalition of federal agencies—including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Pentagon, and the National Security Agency—to track activities of Iraqi and Iraqi-American dual citizens and to target some as informers.
This misguided policy unfairly casts suspicion on individuals solely based on their national identity, thereby overriding our commitment to the presumption of innocence. One need not look back far in history to see the perils of such a policy: a similar method of profiling occurred during World War II, leading to the internment of thousands of Japanese-Americans for the duration of the war. Such an outcome is less likely today, but it is disturbing to see that the government is still willing to treat all Iraqi nationals as threats. Dual American-Iraqi citizens should not be singled out for questioning because of their background if no other information implies a connection to terrorism.
While the Bush administration has shown a callous attitude towards the rights of Iraqi nationals, another new program threatens the privacy of all Americans. Called “Total Information Awareness,” this Pentagon-initiated program proposes to gather personal electronic information including credit card and bank statements, travel plans and e-mail, without a warrant. Total Information Awareness would infringe on the Constitutional right to privacy—foreshadowing a world reminiscent of the chilling vision George Orwell described in 1984. Without a warrant, the government should not be privy to personal information.
Instead of creating new powers for the government to crack down on terrorism, the Bush administration should work to enforce current strategies. A better approach than unfairly targeting Iraqi-Americans without cause for suspicion would be to strengthen the enforcement capabilities of the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to pursue foreigners who warrant scrutiny. The INS currently does not have the resources it needs to track down foreigners who over-stay their visas. Such an oversight was the reason why many of the Sept. 11 hijackers were able to stay in the country after their student visas had expired. The government should do its job before taking away any more civil liberties from law-abiding citizens.
Finally, the attempts by the government to recruit informers among Iraqi-Americans has an eerie similarity to the ill-fated TIPS program that the administration had to abandon after public outcry. The government should not be involved in recruiting informers and gathering information with specific threats of terrorist or criminal activity. Although every citizen should be vigilant of suspicious or threatening actions, America has a culture of openness and tolerance that would be poisoned by intense government surveillance measures. The fight against terrorism must go forward, but not at the expense of our Constitutional freedoms.
Dissent: Targeting Can Be Tactful
The staff is rightly concerned that American citizens and residents of Iraqi origin might be unfairly targeted if war breaks out in the Middle East. Sadly, one of the continual refrains of American wartime policy has been for the government to limit the liberties of groups deemed to be potential threats; the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II is the most prominent example.
However, given Saddam Hussein’s ruthlessness, it is not beyond the pale of reason to imagine some of the political refugees who’ve settled in America over the last decade are his agents. If the government has reasons to be suspicious of specific individuals, it should not have to wait for a tip to passively observe someone’s behavior.
While targeting one national group might seem distasteful, it is also prudent, and so long as it doesn’t impinge upon their freedom of action, is a worthwhile temporary measure for the duration of any war with Iraq.
—Andrew P. Winerman ’04