Risk Intel Report

Enhanced In-Air Internet Surveillance Sought

The debate over whether to allow federal law enforcement the ability to monitor Internet communications from airplanes is significant because it represents a skirmish in the larger war on terrorism over reaching a balance between individual privacy and collective security. It is important to recognize the contours and the complexities of this debate that are made more complicated by at least two crucial factors. First, the external threat of radical Salafi Islam and its potential to unleash havoc on our society, as evidenced by the attacks of 9/11 , have raised the stakes of this debate but offered no simple answers. Second, the avalanche of technology has, in addition to creating marvelous efficiencies; opened our society up to the possibility of massive invasions of privacy. Technological advances have increased both the volume of personal data available and the speed at which this data can be accessed. These two forces of terror and technology have created a situation where the government has the motive, means, and opportunity to redefine the balance between an individual?s right to privacy and the promise of collective security. As to the debate of the proper balance of privacy and security, the proponents of privacy rights argue that the government does not have the right to infringe upon an individual citizen’s right to liberty. Privacy advocates further argue that allowing the government to infringe on these rights in one arena, such as a citizen’s Internet communications on an airplane, set a precedent for infringements and abuses by the government in other arenas. While the arguments of privacy advocates have merit, those on the other side of the debate argue that in times of crisis national security should be the preeminent concern. Security advocates would argue that privacy is a convenience when compared to the fundamental concern of national security. Without security, privacy is irrelevant. Neither security to the exclusion of privacy, nor privacy to the exclusion of security is an appealing option. These opposing principles work best when balanced against one another. By default, for a healthy civil society to thrive, security should not be allowed to encroach on privacy. In contrast, there are most certainly occasions when certain privacy rights should be sacrificed in an attempt to make the society safer from an external or an internal threat. When deciding to enhance our national, collective security, at the expense of individual privacy, our lawmakers would do well to recall that society might not be worth securing if there is no individual liberty or privacy.

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