The definition of the right to privacy relates to the idea that an individual’s records should be protected from public attention. It is often referred to as the right to be left alone (Zalnieriute 312). Although there is no clear clause in the United States Constitution for the right to privacy, some amendments to the United States Constitution include some form of protection for people’s privacy rights (Warso 492). National security, on the other hand, is a philosophy that involves the government protecting the state and all of its people against some kind of security danger in a variety of ways. Such methods may include the use of intelligence services to detect and prevent threats, diplomacy, military might, political power, and economic power among others (Etzioni 101). There exists a broad range of divided opinions regarding the trade-off between the need for national security and personal privacy, with much of the focus being on government surveillance. In my view, national security is more important than our privacy. This paper, therefore, presents an argument on why national security should be treated as more important than personal privacy.
Why National Security Is More Important than Our Privacy
The rate of terrorist attacks is on the rise in every part of the world. Acts of terrorism are facilitated by the high level of technological advancements, which makes it easy for the terrorists to communicate, plan, and execute attacks, thereby killing innocent citizens (Pfleeger 3). The fight against such acts of terrorism requires the government to put national security and public safety above individual privacy (Pfleeger 4). In fact, American citizens should be on the forefront in backing various government plans of intensifying national security, which is a necessary step in the world’s current security climate. The process of creating security consciousness among individual citizens and the enhancement of security infrastructure by various agencies is critical in countering terrorism strategies and may require infringement of some of the people’s privacy rights (Etzioni 103). The security agents must, therefore, be allowed to have access to all the information they may require in their efforts to enhance national security as long as they do not use such as information to victimize innocent citizens.
Additionally, the primary role of the United States government is to provide protection for all its citizens and resources against any form of an external and internal security threat (Gorham-Oscilowski and Paul 626). American citizens value their safety because security lapses often have direct adverse impacts on the people’s lives. That is why it is necessary to sacrifice some privacy rights to enhance national security (Gorham-Oscilowski and Paul 628). The 1996 bombing at Oklahoma City during the Atlanta Olympic Games and the attack on the World Trade Center in New York are some of the reminders of the impacts of acts of terrorism that the United States has faced due to security lapses (Pfleeger 5). Therefore, putting people’s privacy rights first before the national security would not only make it difficult for the national security agencies to curb security threats, but also make the country highly vulnerable to various acts of terrorism.
When terrorist attacks occur, the country records several injuries and deaths, despite the various precautionary measures placed by the security agencies. That, therefore, means that the security agents need to be permitted to explore all the data that they feel is essential towards detecting such security threats so as to enhance public safety and make Americans citizen conduct their businesses without fear. In the current global society where materials and individuals move across international borders, both the government and its citizens are in a constant struggle in finding an appropriate balance between national security and civil liberties (Etzioni 109). However, civil rights are only enjoyable if there is guaranteed public safety. It is, therefore, more important to emphasize national security than privacy rights.
The most critical responsibility of the government is to secure its citizen’s general welfare. That means national security is a common good that all Americans must enjoy and it must, therefore, outweigh any individual concerns regarding privacy (Sadeghi 3). Besides, privacy has no explicit provision in the United States Constitution and, therefore, it can not be claimed an individual’s fundamental right (Gorham-Oscilowski and Paul 629). Also, surveillance relates to the practice of watching private activities of suspects by security agencies. In the past, surveillance processes involved tracing people’s movements. However, the modern technical world has made the process easier through the use of various electronic gadgets which help security agencies to listen to and read different private conversations so as to detect security threats (Etzioni 115). Surveillance may also require security agents to monitor various bank transactions with the aim of identifying potential security threats. All such efforts by security agencies are helpful in tracking the activities of terrorists (Etzioni 117). The government, therefore, has to be given room to access private information which is vital in tracking activities of terrorism.
Most rights described in the Human Rights Act are not absolute (Warso 494). This means that they have to be balanced with other rights. For instance, the people’s right to freedom of speech does not permit an individual to make statements that may spark violence. Similarly, the people’s privacy rights are not absolute and the American citizens need to allow the government to have control over some of their privacy rights so as to enhance national security. That is because Americans can do without some of the privacy rights but can not survive without security (Sadeghi 5). National safety is, therefore, an aspect of great importance and should not face resistance if its attainment necessitates the infringement of some privacy rights.
Despite the significance that national security has over privacy, the proponents of privacy rights argue that the people’s right to privacy is provided for in the Fourth Amendment to the United States Constitution and it, therefore, has to be respected, since it bans unreasonable search and seizure (Warso 495). They further argue that when the government, through its security agencies, gathers and shares individual citizens’ information, it is conducting such prohibited searches in an electronic version (Zalnieriute 313). Additionally, the privacy proponents argue that any idea that gives the government more power such as the authority to infringe people’s privacy rights should not be acceptable. They claim that various government security agencies have, in the past, misused their power over innocent citizens. According to privacy proponents, allowing the national security agencies to access people’s private data is a way of exposing citizens to abuse by the security agents (Warso, 497).
The privacy proponents also claim that tighter security controls which enable security agencies to access people’s private information can be used by the security officers to target certain religious or ethnic groups, thereby victimizing innocent citizens (Etzioni 121). Besides, they claim that such surveillance activities may also set such groups against the general public, creating more acts of violence than controlling (Etzioni 124). Other privacy proponents also claim that the war on terror is not a war against a particular state and that there is no defined formula for curbing acts of terrorism. According to them, the infringement of people’s rights to privacy by the security agencies does not only violates the American Constitution, but also weakens their spirit towards contributing to the enhancement of national security (Sadeghi 6).
Additionally, privacy proponents claim that the surveillance by national security agencies involves mass accumulation of data of millions of citizens, most of which are not necessary for the prevention of terrorist attacks in the country. They, therefore, consider such bulk surveillance programs as dubious legal footings which require reevaluation to determine the most appropriate scope of intelligence operations as well as various regulations and rules that govern them (Pfleeger 6).
However, despite such claims by privacy proponents, national security remains a critical component of every American citizen’s life and it has to be prioritized. Besides, the surveillance activities conducted by various national security agencies remain necessary elements of national security if the safety of the American citizens has to be improved. Though privacy is also important, the standards of national security can not be lowered to accommodate some of the privacy rights, especially with the rising terrorism threats from several groups. Also, despite the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution of the United States protecting against unreasonable seizures and searches, it allows the government to access any suspicious data shared with third parties as a means of monitoring communication (Warso 498). The mass collection of metadata by various security agencies should, therefore, be considered as an entirely appropriate strategy towards protecting American citizens against various security threats.
Additionally, the National Security Administration prefers collecting metadata from individuals to the actual phone call contents (Etzioni 129). The security agencies have no interest in the details of citizens’ phone calls; all they want is to ensure that the country and all its citizens are safe at any given time (Etzioni 132). The information collected by the security agencies is helpful in revealing individuals’ social aptitude, movements, and practices. The average citizen, therefore, does not have to worry about the revealing nature of the data collected by security agencies. In essence, the National Security Administration (NSA) has no interest in the average American’s private information. With the increasing security threats standing against the United States, the priority of the NSA is to prevent further casualties resulting from acts of terrorism as well as to ensure the safety of all citizens.
National security stands as the most important element of life to both the government and individual citizen. Though privacy also forms an essential aspect of people’s social wellbeing, the standards for ensuring national security can not be lowered to accommodate some of the privacy rights which do not have direct impacts on the lives of the citizens. In essence, privacy is a social need which is essential for family life, personal dignity, and societal wellbeing. However, national security overrides people’s rights to privacy, since it is a vital tool for the survival of citizens. It is, therefore, important for citizens to appreciate the government’s efforts towards ensuring national security rather than focus on the analysis of information collected by the national security agencies.
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Pfleeger, Shari Lawrence. “Enlightened Security: Shedding Light on What Works and Why.” IEEE Security & Privacy, vol. 11, no. 1, 2013, pp. 3-6.
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