The and the 1917 Espionage Act. Common

The National Security Agency, established in 1952, describes its purpose in the motto: “Defending Our Nation. Securing the Future.”  However, in recent years, Americans have worried that the so-called protection provided by the agency is actually hindering citizens’ rights, especially concerning the issue of internet privacy. The NSA’s activities enabled under the Patriot Act, legislation hastily passed in the weeks following the September 11th terrorist attacks, have fueled considerable debate and criticism. The legislation has been then reauthorized and reformed in the following decades. Several segments of the Patriot Act have been ruled unconstitutional, and criticism was exacerbated following 2013 leaks by former NSA employee Edward Snowden. Among the many secrets that came to light about the NSA were the revelations that, the government collects and stores data on Americans’ online records. Ostensibly, this helps track and combat terrorism. But are the Patriot Act and government actually effectively stopping terrorist attacks, especially considering the cost of the invasion of innocent Americans’ privacy?The Patriot Act, and the government’s actions under its jurisdiction, suffer accusations of violating the Bill of Rights on two grounds. To begin with, going through people’s internet search history and their online communication is a violation of the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech”. It’s understandable for people to feel unsafe criticizing the government online if they feel that the powers that be are surveying what they’re saying- especially considering the United States’ history of legislation such as the 1798 Sedition Act and the 1917 Espionage Act. Common concern is that the Patriot Act is the beginning of US government surveillance escalating to dystopian levels. The United States’ foundation was inspired by criticism of an unjust government. Freedom of speech is an essential component of democracy. It cannot be valued less than domestic security. Secondly, the NSA has been denunciated for its issuing of hundreds of thousands of “national security letters” (NSLs for short). NSLs request that Americans release their data to the FBI under suspicion of or connection to terrorism or other crimes. Those who receive NSLs are barred from discussing them with anyone. NSLs were declared unconstitutional in several court cases because they are warrants without sufficient review and limits. They are in violation of the Fourth Amendment:”The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against  unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”Yet NSLs continued to be sent out after the rulings. The National Security Agency and other proponents of the Patriot Act argue that all of these measures, invasive and unconstitutional as they may be, are necessary to the mission of stopping terrorism. But how valid is this claim? In the first three years following the initial passage of the Patriot Act, the NSA issued nearly 200,000 NSIs. Yet in that time period, only one terror-related conviction was made, and many government officials speculate that the suspect could have been successfully apprehended without using the powers granted by the Patriot Act. In 2014, the US Privacy and Civil Liberties Oversight Board conducted an investigation and came to the conclusion that, “We have not identified a single instance involving a threat to the United States in which the telephone records program made a concrete difference in the outcome of counterterrorism investigation. Moreover, we are aware of no instance in which the program directly contributed to the discovery of a previously unknown terrorist plot or the disruption of a terrorist attack”. Upon questioning, the FBI later corroborated the truth of this statement. Former NSA director Keith Alexander once said that the Agency stops terrorism and prevents enemies of the state from creating “repression of free speech”. However, the Agency itself seems to be suppressing free speech, as well as violating other Constitutional principles, in its ineffective quest to stop terrorism. Reforming the Patriot Act was a step in the right direction for protecting citizens’ right to privacy and upholding American values of freedom.

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