Security vs Privacy in the Term Paper

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This has been the basic rationale for every totalitarian state during the Twentieth Century. It is the idea that if the people relinquish their rights -- especially their rights to keep anything hidden from the government -- then the government will be better able to ensure that no potential threats to the security of the citizenry ever manifest themselves. This premise, however, is based on the faulty idea that the government will never abuse this power. History has demonstrated otherwise. In fact, the unchecked expansion of government authority into the private lives of individuals will only result in greater abuses against the Constitutional rights of the individual -- all in the name of security for the nation. But security of this kind is impossible to ensure -- the marginal increase in safety will be more than counteracted by the wanton acts of governmental abuse that will be directed toward otherwise law-abiding citizens.

For instance, since September 11th, groups, individuals, and politicians have repeatedly presented the issue of a national ID card on the assumption that it will improve security for the nation (Security and freedom, 2002). First of all, this is an erroneous assumption. After all, many European nations have national identification cards, but those nations are not immune from terrorism. While a national identification card may improve some aspects of law enforcement, these gains should be carefully weighed against the potential abuses that the card could be turned to in order to undermine individual privacy rights. Any national identification card, by its very nature, should be considered a threat to privacy (Security and freedom, 2002). The reason for this is quite simple. A national identification card, especially the kind proposed that would include biometric and a host of personal information, would give the government an easy, one-stop access to a variety of private data on individual habits and behaviors.

Even a de facto national ID card like the social security card or the driver's license would pale in comparison to the wealth of information a federally mandated ID card could provide. Despite the verifiable fact that a national identification card will not make the nation any safer, recent executive plans are in the works to institute such a card within the next fifteen years. Twight (2006) reports that in 2005 such a program was laid out that would gradually create a national ID card system, all under the guise of protecting the nation from terrorists. In the name of national security, the government has progressively expanded its powers whilst undermining the Constitution's ability to protect citizens from the government's reach. We must consider the net effect of a national ID card, not just the rhetoric. True, such a card might make terrorism more difficult in some cases -- though bribery and corruption will still make it possible for foreign terrorists to gain access to legitimate ID cards. However, the day-to-day reality will be a nation in which the government controls vast databases of information on every citizen in the nation that could potentially be used to whatever end it likes. Abuses by the government would become that much more difficult to resist.

Privacy cannot and should not be sacrificed in the ephemeral name of national security. Nonetheless, this is exactly what is happening in the United States. The 2001 terrorist attacks provided the impetus for measures such as the Patriot Act, much of which has since been found unconstitutional. This ruling has not stopped the executive branch via the intelligence community to continue to attempt to use national security as an excuse to undermine privacy rights. For instance, on December 13, 2004, President Bush signed into law the Intelligence Authorization Act, which grants unprecedented power to the FBI to access private records without a court order (Swartz, 2004). This expansion of power has proceeded despite the fact that similar measures were struck down as part of the revised Patriot Act. The American people seem willing to accept greater and greater intrusions into their privacy.

Proponents of security over privacy argue that all of Bush's efforts since September 11th have been examples of the legitimate exercise of presidential war powers during a time of national crisis. Critics, on the other hand, point out that the attack on civil liberties and privacy are part of a dangerous pattern of executive overreach in the United States (Sileo, 2006). Despite the controversy, President Bush continues to support programs that superficially enhance security by vastly expanding surveillance powers over American citizens. These measures should be resisted at any cost. Arguably, the greater threat to the individual security of any person in the nation is potential abuse enacted by a too-powerful central government. Therefore any proposal that is made in the name of national security should be carefully evaluated in terms of its actual, net effects. If it can be shown that the measure -- such as the national ID card -- will not have a significant effect on improving national security but will nevertheless seriously undermine individual privacy and civil liberties, then the proposal should be resisted at every cost. Privacy and civil liberties cannot be casually sacrificed because of irrational fear.


Bennett, S.C. (2006, August 7). Data security: it's a nonpartisan issue. New Jersey Law Journal.

Donohue, L.K. (2006, Spring). Anglo-American privacy and surveillance. Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology, 96(3), pp. 1059-1208.

Heymann, P.B. (2002, Spring). Civil liberties and human rights in the aftermath of September 11. Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy, 25(2), pp. 441-455.

McMasters, P.K. (2006, June 1). Casting a digital drift net. New Jersey Law Journal.

Munro, N. And Stone, P.H. (2001, September 15). A tougher balancing act. National Journal, 33(37), p. 2852.

Security and freedom in a free society. (2002, September/October). CATO Policy Report, pp. 6-9.

Sileo, C. (2006, April). Lawsuits aim to curb warrantless domestic surveillance. Trial, 42(4), pp. 12-15.

Swartz, N. (2004, March-April). PATRIOT act's reach expanded despite part being struck…[continue]

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