The issue of national security and the individual privacy elicit ranging debates as to which one takes precedent. National security entails the safety of a country from internal and external threats. Individual privacy guarantees the protection of personal and internal affairs of persons that should not be exposed to public scrutiny. The duty to protect the nation lies on the government security agencies and the instruments of protection. It is also the duty of the government to protect its citizens and ensure that their fundamental rights including the right to privacy. At what extent therefore, should the government infiltrates into the private affairs of individuals for the purposes of protecting the nation? At what levels should the privacy of individuals be enhanced at the expense of the national security? The paper therefore, looks at the conflict that arises between national security and individual privacy.
It is the primary obligation of every government to protect its citizens. Nations have individual rights that are entrenched in the constitution and should be protected. The duty to protect the rights of the citizens is with the state institutions which are controlled by the government. The national security is the responsibility of the government, the protection of the county’s sovereignty, protection of the country from internal and external threats is the responsibility of the government. The individual’s liberty, the freedom to exercise individual liberty without restrictions from the law enforcement agencies, the freedom of people to engage in activities of will without their rights being infringed upon by any law agency are some of the fundamental human rights that must be protected. This poses one question, is the national security paramount to individual rights and freedom? Debate rages on to shed light on the two arguments.
Since the passage of the Human Right Bill in the United States, several legislations have been passed as well, the famous legislation being the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, the act outlined the procedures that could be used to question and to conduct the judicial authority for physical and electronic surveillance to monitor the activities of the people involved in espionage and terrorism. (Townsend, 2009) This type of legislation gave the United States power to conduct surveillance on citizens. The electronic surveillance done by the government, with an objective of monitoring the secret activities that in the opinion of the government, are of the interest of the national security and the protection of the citizens are acts of infringement on the rights of individual.
Since the bombing of the Oklahoma City, during the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta Georgia and world trade center in New York in 2001, the United States government came to realize that the nation was at the risk of further threat, despite all the necessary efforts that were being done to protect the land and the citizens. Before the two attacks that hit the United States, the country had never put more surveillance on its citizens. The government and the nation at large were forced to sacrifice certain democratic rights and freedoms for the sake of the country. National security took precedent and it was the duty of the government to protect its people from attacks from terrorists who lived in the American soil. (State Services Commission, 2001)
The government started implementing stringent screening measures to ascertain the businesses of those who visited American soil from other parts of the world. The surveillance systems for monitoring the activities of fundamentalist groups and individuals who were perceived to be a threat to national security were beefed up. In this perspective, the government went further to violate the fundamental rights of privacy for the sake of national security. The country had to be protected irrespective of the measures taken to accomplish that.
When an individual is put on a watch list by the government, with the secret surveillance for a given period of time, until the government get what it wants infringes and violates individual right of association, freedom of movement and expression. The person whose activities and movements are being monitored, whether consciously or unconsciously aware of the process, elements of fear, stress and timidity are bound to occur in his life. The person may feel victimized, undervalued and may not trust the security agencies. (Gary Dressler, 2009) The spy agencies in the United States like FBI, CIA and secret service have conducted the undercover operations in the US soil and other parts of the world to unearth the activities of outlawed organizations like the Al-Qaida among others. The activities of these secret security intelligence services have repercussions of limiting the movements of the suspects and narrows down the activities they engage in. Their lives subjected to states of uncertainty, their families live in fear and always in the hide out. This violates the fundamental rights and freedom of individuals to move and express themselves. Individual privacy of the suspects who are associated with illegal deals, businesses and acts of terrorists is compromised which in itself is a violation of privacy rights.
When a person’s personal or business e-mail are collected, filtered in order to identify his friends and acquaintances, as possible collaborators or terrorists is an on individual rights. The government may use its powers to monitor the calls and e-mails of people it suspects are involved in acts of terrorism, but at what extent should that go. Monitoring the calls and e-mails an individual sends to his friends and family members is a violation of human right to communication. The government is to provide the network and facilitate the communication of its citizens. During the period for which individual activities on calls and the e-mails are being investigated, the privacy to speech and communication is exposed to unwarranted people.
When security agencies compel citizens to carry national identification cards, including personal information such as address and phone, medical information and the global positioning system that accurately detects where a person is for surveillance purposes is of national security importance but gross violation of fundamental human rights. People are free to move anywhere without restrictions. The freedom of movement and association is found in the constitutions of many countries of the world. It is the sole objective of the government to ensure that all the rights and fundamental human rights are protected. When the government requires its citizens to walk with national identity cards and other documents to reveal their particulars and locating their positions, using the global positioning system technology is imprisonment. Human being cannot move freely when their movements are being monitored.
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The prisons and correctional facilities are institutions for correctional purposes. Many prisons in the world do not value the individual privacy; prisons like the Guantanamo Bay which is famous for imprisonment of terrorists are a typical example of a place where the individual privacy is violated. The inmates at Guantanamo Bay are violated in terms of body battery, stripped naked before the security personnel and their fellow inmates. The prison is meant to protect the world from threats of acts of terrorism. It is an institution for the national security and the protection of lives of innocent individuals who are the targets of terrorism. The prison at the same time acts as a torture chamber where the rights of the inmates are violated at will. (Rutherford, 2002) The families of the inmates are subjected to inhuman treatment by the investigative agencies who investigate the background of the inmates for the purposes of establishing their connections with the remaining family members and other links that could help in apprehending their accomplices.
The government puts the satellite monitors to monitor the house or business periodically over a given period to look for unusual levels of vehicle traffic and truck shipments that may contain illegal weapons. This is an attempt to protect the nation from contraband shipments that are threats to national security. People have right to operate private businesses and premises without secret or open security surveillance from the security agencies. It is the responsibility of the government to ensure that all citizens are free to engage in any business they want so long as the businesses operates in legitimate legal commodities and merchandises accepted by the law. The government should therefore monitor all the businesses that its citizens are engaged and weed out the illegal businesses. (Thomas, 1990) This should be done using proper and necessary legislations that do not put the rights of people to individual privacy in jeopardy.
National security and individual privacy are aspects that are closely related but operate on different grounds. Institutions are put in place, legislations are enacted and systems are ope rationalized to ensure the rights of individuals are protected. The security agencies and social institutions work closely to ensure the safety of the nation and success in implementing the human rights policies. The point of departure comes in situations where potential threat to national security is imminent, calling for the suspension or violation of some of the human rights like individual privacy for the safety of the nation. It is the responsibility of the institutions in place to ensure that policies pertaining to the protection of the nation and ensuring that the nation is safe and individual rights are protected. National security supersedes individual privacy, the latter is paramount when it comes to the implementation of the bill of right, which guarantees that people should be given room to exercise individual privacy needs.