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Balancing between national security and individual privacy is seemingly a daunting task that does not promise an amicable solution in the near future. There are so many controversies surrounding this issue where people with opposing opinions are striving to ensure that their views dominate. The question about which between the two should be prioritized is not relevant compared to the effects either of the alternatives will have in the lives of citizens. The issue is complicated further by the sensitive nature of both national security and individual privacy. There is a close association between the two, thus making it hard for policy makers to alter either of them without touching the other. However, it is a fact that as much as many people want to have full right to individual privacy, they will also be keen to ensure that their security is guaranteed. In other words, the two must be provided without necessarily causing collusion between the two. National security is prioritized compared to individual privacy given the fact that people universally value national security.
Legal status of the Individual Privacy vs. National Security issue
Controversies surrounding national security and individual privacy came at the limelight after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States. However, this issue has been in existence for a longer time although it has had minimal effect on individual privacy. This paper will focus on recent events since little was heard in the past about the issue. The terrorist attack in 2001 is responsible for the heated debate of whether individual privacy should be given up for national security. The politics that followed the attacks prompted the legislatures to pass the United States of America Patriot Act (The Data Base Book, 2010). This was purposely done to give security agents a legal ground to search for and apprehend the terrorist suspects. Various views were given concerning this law with proponents arguing that it was indispensable to protect the citizens first before considering individual privacy. On the other hand, opponents were equally vocal as they asserted that passing of such laws would violate civil rights that are protected by the Constitution. In other words, these laws were illegal. Individual privacy is a constitutional right, especially in the American society (Mitrano, 2003). However, as this may be true, other views have been that individual privacy cannot be enjoyed without security. This means that national security carries more weight compared to individual privacy despite the legal assertions that are more traditional.
Although proponents of individual privacy cite the constitutional provision that recognizes civil rights, they may be mistaken. The United States Constitution does not identify privacy as a civil right. This is because the word privacy is not even in the Constitution (The Data Base Book, 2010). Therefore, it is arguably untrue to state that the Constitution guarantees individual privacy. This gives the government legal avenue to introduce laws such as the Patriot Act. From this point of view, security becomes a common need that everyone is entitled to. Therefore, national security outweighs personal goals and deserves the first priority.
In a research conducted among information technology experts in 2008, it was evident that national security received strong backing compared to individual privacy. In this study, 53% of 474 IT experts were of the view that national security was paramount in the states. This study proved the point further when 69% of federal, state, and local IT security agencies cited that identity management was critical (Jones, 2008). They indicated that management of individual identity is particularly valuable as far as the life of the entire population is concerned. Such possibilities would ensure that security organs could be able to track a suspect and probably prevent any activity that would be a security threat to people. Management of this information does not involve any sharing at a public level, implying that the information obtained by the agencies is confidential. This is, perhaps, why 45% of the experts believed that funding for this security measure would increase compared to a paltry 5% who believed otherwise.
Effects on International Relations
Preference to national security over individual privacy is further depicted by the strong views expressed by the United States government. The United States and European Union have engaged each other in formal negotiations exonerating the European Union citizens front the anti-terror measures taken by the United States over those who visit the country (Homeland Security, 2011). The European Union seeks to secure an umbrella agreement that will ensure that its citizens are not subjected to critical surveillance. In relation to this counteraction by the European Union, the United States was making it mandatory that all foreign airlines submit personal information on its passengers. This was aimed at preventing terrorists from entering the country. However, the response given by the United States showed that it was not willing to make any compromises on its national security. This standoff shows that the homeland security is not going to relent on this stand. This is because when national security is guaranteed, individual security is guaranteed too.
National security is not only valued in the United States. Trends in other parts of the world also tend to show that national security is given priority to individual privacy with most countries enacting laws that seek to put national security first. However, in Canada, there is some opposition to the idea of allowing access to personal information for security purposes. Bill C-36 changed data retention schemes in the national data bank (Macklem, 2001). The bill also gives a judge power to prohibit access or disclosure of personal information, whether in favor of national security, national defense, or any foreign relations issue. The fundamentals of this bill are to ensure that there is accountability in security agencies and protection of civil rights. Therefore, the case is a little bit different in Canada where accountability on the government side is required. However, personal information is subject to access by the security agents if there is a need to do so. Although the two provisions are conflicting, preference for national security is evident. This is because a security threat will automatically allow probing of suspects. This scenario can be summarized by acknowledging that there should be a well-defined balance between individual privacy and national security.
Indiscriminate and Intrusive Nature of Preference to National Security
As much as people are arguing about whether to embrace national security over individual privacy, technological advancement may just dictate the direction. It is now possible for various security agents to access private information online without the consent of the owners. This means personal data or even surveillance is possible with the involved people remaining oblivious of what is happening to them. According to Dr. Clarke of the Australian National University, the 9/11 assault on the United States may just make this possible (Quiddington, 2001). Emphasis on this possibility is made by the fact that information technology can be used to survey people effectively for security reasons. However, Dr. Clarke is pessimistic that technology and the attacks on the United States may be used as a scapegoat to involve extremely intrusive techniques. This could be promoted by the fact the there are centralized information systems that can analyze information and lead to security actions. According to Clarke, security agents may lose focus and start monitoring all of us contrary to what they say. This is true because it means that everybody will be virtually monitored.
The situation will even be worse for foreigners visiting the United States. This implies that everybody will be treated as a suspect. This is likely to cause confusion in the name of fighting terrorism. Furthermore, privacy may be compromised very much this way; however, the overall effect is the nation will be safer. Citizens will be able to exercise their right to privacy if security threats are eliminated.
Another notable weakness with compromising individual security for national security is that personal information may get into the wrong hands (Quiddington, 2001). It is evident that not all security agencies are state-owned. Some are private and thus their abilities to handle intelligence information are questionable. Therefore, caution should be taken when giving licenses for such operations in order to ensure that safety is maintained. Otherwise, the whole issue of favoring national security over individual privacy may go belly up if stringent precautionary structures are not put in place.
In conclusion, individual privacy is fundamental, and everyone deserves this right. However, it is difficult to assert whether it comes before national security. Many studies have revealed that national security is given preference compared to individual privacy. This forms the main reason why the United States government has enacted several laws to allow intelligence forces to access private information for security reasons. It is also correct to conclude that national security is critical, basing on which it comes before individual privacy. There will be individual privacy if national security is assured, whereas national security is not guaranteed if individual privacy is granted. In addition, no information is made public as much as surveillance is concerned. Therefore, it is worth concluding that national security is prioritized compared to individual privacy given the fact that people universally value national security