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Monday, October 13, 2014

In Brief: Personal Privacy versus State Security, an Inaccurate Presentation

Note: the following is a repost from a PSU course discussion prompt regarding the connection between privacy and state security.


The modern world is not only post-9/11 -- thirteen years after September 11, 2001 and as many years after the PATRIOT Act -- but also post-Snowden -- wherein the issue of privacy was publicly presented as an antagonist of state security. As such, the American public now seems to intuitively understand that high levels of state, and public, security require a certain reduction in privacy, particularly in a highly-connected, digital era. This is very intuitive to many citizens of the United States as a direct result of the foundational heritage and intervening centuries that fostered a strong sense of independence and freedom in opposition to any restrictive attempts on private life. However, what the American public intuitively perceives as a zero-sum equation (privacy versus security) is inaccurate, as is the assumption that privacy is intended to be a pervasive freedom.

For effective state security and to secure the wellbeing of the public, certain concessions must be made: the government must be permitted to dictate action in certain situations and environments, the government must be permitted to intrude on the otherwise private and largely uninteresting lives of its citizens, and the government must be permitted to act in ways antithetical to public opinion that cultivates an improved outcome. In this way, security can be understood as more important than the individual, finite lives and interests of citizens, as the state has a fundamental, vested interest in serving the greater -- if not greatest -- good possible. Partially infringing upon the rights of a small few in order to benefit the much larger whole is, therefore, not only permissible but required -- regardless of any strong protest to the contrary. Not everyone can, or should, be allowed to do solely as they desire.

This is not to say that the right to individual privacy is to be wholly violated by the government in the interest of state security, nor is it to be executed on a majority of citizens. Rather, the government should pursue what is necessary to achieve its mandated goals, and limit itself to prevent further explorations and abuses of power. Regardless, the pragmatic reality of the present dictates a structured quasi-encompassing exploration of otherwise private data, as without a sufficiently complete database, the necessary intelligence can not be produced. Moreover, the United States is neither interested in, nor equipped to investigate, the mundane daily details of an ordinary citizen, much less a number of citizens -- this would be an impossible waste of resources on uninteresting targets. To imagine, therefore, that private data is being regularly violated in some fashion is merely dramatic politics, nothing more.

State security does not require a dissolution of privacy, and the two interests can be effectively merged to protect the interests of the many (in whom the national and homeland security sectors have absolutely no interest) while permitting the violation of the rights of a few (who can be generally assumed as warranting some level of interest). Full privacy in any modern society is an unrealistic expectation, particularly when placed in the context of security, but so, too, is a fully secure state. In striking an effective balance, the American public must become better educated on the nuances of modern privacy and effective security, with a more accurate assessment of what violations to expect, when, and in what scope.

Tuesday, October 7, 2014

In Brief: Law Enforcement and Homeland Security

Note:  the following is a repost from a PSU course discussion prompt asking if domestic terror threats are an issue of law enforcement or intelligence.


Within the borders of the United States, terror threats are distinctly non-military in nature; however, whether such threats are categorized as the domain of law enforcement or the intelligence community (IC) is less clear. Law enforcement is, as the name implies, tasked with enforcing the law, as well as protecting the public and the public’s interests. In a post-September 11, 2001 era, however, many federal law enforcement agencies have had an additional role mandated: preventing and mitigating acts of terror. This has had a profound effect on the way in which such agencies execute their duties, including the reshaping and refocusing of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). Additionally, the federal law enforcement community has created Joint Terrorism Task Forces (JTTFs) that better integrate federal terror-related efforts with state, local, and municipal law enforcement agencies, effectively ensuring that law enforcement is, nationwide, engaged in anti-terror activities. As such, law enforcement is clearly central in addressing domestic terror threats.

However, law enforcement is not alone, as the IC -- which also includes certain law enforcement agencies, such as FBI -- has been mandated with similar prevention and mitigation tasks, following 9/11/01. Various agencies have reshaped themselves to better address terror threats, rather than focusing on more traditional state actors, and, notably, gained legal authority to monitor persons of interest domestically. More important, however, is the cooperative role the IC plays in the prevention and mitigation of terror threats: as these agencies do not have the authority or means to execute necessary efforts, intelligence is provided to law enforcement for what the IC often views as follow-up or closure. After monitoring threats and identifying those requiring action, law enforcement executes on such actionable intelligence. Without this intelligence, law enforcement would not have such a wide range of duties.

As such, domestic terror threats are the jurisdiction of neither law enforcement nor the intelligence community: it is a shared jurisdiction, wherein each carries out a different and complementary function. One without the other would be an incomplete effort, and would be far less efficacious than the current arrangement. However, improvements could be made through the integration of intelligence and law enforcement into single agencies -- as FBI has done -- in order to specialize the collection process and streamline any issues of information sharing.