By Surbhi Agrawal, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies, Dehradun.
USA Freedom Act is the Legislation designed to place strict limits on the National Security Agency (NSA) Surveillance, passed by Barack Obama on June 2, 2015. It stands for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Fulfilling Rights and Ending Eavesdropping, Dragnet- collection and Online Monitoring Act.” The enactment of this Legislation has strengthened Civil Liberty and provided greater public confidence. The USA Freedom Act restricted the NSA from secretly collecting the phone records of tens of millions of Americans. The NSA does not involve itself just in listening or recording conversation but this spy agency uses this data to analyze the calling patterns with an effort to detect terrorist activities.
The USA Freedom Act was passed because the provisions of the Patriot Act were going to expire; therefore, it renewed Patriot Act’s power. The USA Freedom Act has renewed these powers in a more limited form and included other measures to put a rein in Government surveillance on American soil. The purpose of passing this Act was to end the bulk collection of Americans’ metadata1 by the NSA, to end the secret laws created by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court2 and to create a new streamlined process for getting access to Americans’ phone records.
In 2013, the Government used its authority to create PRISM, a program that allows the NSA to gain warrantless access to private user data on popular online services. The program created by Government was legal under Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which allowed the Government to obtain business records that are relevant for a terrorism investigation. Therefore, to curb terrorism, the analysis of phone records was important and this was the legal tactic to “find the connections between known and unknown terrorists”. As after the attack of 9/11, the threat of terrorism has not diminished from America, so the American Government is just trying to deal with the problem of preventing future terrorist attacks.
In the landmark judgment of Smith v. Maryland, the Government was allowed to collect such data by tracing phone calls. All this was done in the name of protecting the country from the terrorists. The reign of terror is the greatest fear of any Country. To obtain phone records was relevant for terrorism investigation but it was argued that the Government might not need every American’s calling records for the same. The Government argued that the relevant standard permits the discovery of large volumes of data and doing so is necessary to identify much smaller amount of information within that data.
In a recent case of ACLU v. Clapper, it was held that the National Security Agency’s surveillance program for collecting phone numbers, call times and call duration of most of the US phone calls is violating the provision of U.S. Constitution. It was further held that the NSA’s collection of bulk telephone ‘metadata’ of Americans can lead to the abuse of personal records of innocents without their knowledge. The suit alleges that the current interpretation exceeds congressional authority of Section 215 of the Patriot Act to collect bulk telephone metadata, with access to such records authorized by the secretive Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) Court and thus, declared the program unconstitutional as it violates Right to Freedom of Association and Privacy. Mass surveillance has failed to make us safer and has interfered with the personal lives of people, which is fundamentally incompatible with the privacy of a free society.
Sensenbrenner, who worked with the President George W Bush, gave more power to US Intelligence Agencies after the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Intelligence community misused these powers by collecting telephone records of all Americans and therefore, it was claimed that the time has come “to put their metadata program out of business”.
What is more important: Our Privacy or National Security?
Ultimately, the point of discussion for a Country is that which is more important “National Security” or “Right to Privacy”? A country should secure its Nation or Privacy of an individual.
America has been facing the threat of terrorism since a long time and the Government is dealing with the problem of preventing the public from such terrorist attacks. So why are Americans, who are aware of this eminent threat, surprised and angered to find out that the Government is collecting their phone records? Shouldn’t National Security be of more importance than a minor invasion of their Privacy? Why such question is arising when we know that the National Security Agency gathers phone logs and internet data from millions of Americans as part of its mission to keep the United States safe and it does not have any ulterior motive.
Therefore, where terrorism is such a close threat, Americans must disregard the desire of privacy and should be concerned with the well-being of the nation’s safety. The Government absolutely has the right to collect data from its citizens when it in the welfare of the nation’s safety, whether that means pulling out phone records, listening to phone calls, or monitoring internet searches.
But the point is that, infringing someone’s privacy is Constitutionally wrong, but the people should understand that when it is for the safety of the millions of people, Government intrusion should be ignored and should be given every Right to do whatever it takes to keep its people safe. If a person is doing everything legal then there should be no issue when Government does something to curb terrorism, which may be planning the next 9/11. Therefore, protecting Americans from crime is of utmost importance and finding a balance between Civil Liberties and National Security is elusive. The Government should do whatever it can do to keep the Country safe even if it means sacrificing Civil Liberties.
A large majority of Americans is in favor of the Federal Government and says that the Government’s main concern should be on investigation of possible terrorist threats even if personal privacy is compromised.
So, the USA Freedom Act should take into consideration both, the privacy and should curb terrorism. The Act should not diverge into a negative route; otherwise America will end up facing one or the other terror. The Act which has been passed had anyway stopped the NSA from spying data but has not ended the root cause of American’s problem. Therefore, I would like to end up my article by just saying that:
“PEOPLE’S LIFE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN INVASION OF PRIVACY.”
1 Phone records of the time and numbers called without any disclosure of content.
2 A secret body that handles individual requests for electronic surveillance for foreign intelligence purposes