Surveillance without warrant must be limited to protect citizen privacy


The terrorist attack that took place on Sept. 11, 2001 altered Americans’ perspective on domestic surveillance. The public no longer felt immune to the violent world that was unfolding at a safe distance and certainly not on American soil. The attack changed the perception that people had about the security of their country.

Airport security increased and two wars in the Middle East began, but the greatest action taken by the U.S. government was bolstering the domestic security apparatus of the nation. While contributing to the lack of terror attacks since 2001, domestic surveillance has also significantly degraded citizens’ right to privacy.

A recent 4-3 decision by the New York State Court of Appeals has brought this conundrum to the forefront once again. The court upheld the NYPD’s refusal in 2012 to “neither confirm nor deny” the existence of police records that would have acknowledged whether the police’s counterterrorism operations were spying on New York City residents Talib Abdur-Rashid and Samir Hashmi.

Abdur-Rashid and Hashmi, having read reports about an unconfirmed NYPD domestic spying operation that specifically targeted Muslims after 9/11, wanted to know if they too had been spied on simply for being Muslim.

The court reasoned that allowing one request to be granted would trigger thousands of similar requests. If future courts refused to acknowledge spying activity their inaction could be inferred as a tacit acknowledgment that it did occur.

According to The Wall Street Journal, the court’s decision can be traced back to the jurisprudence of the 2004 U.S. Supreme Court case, National Archives and Records Administration v. Favish, which noted that public disclosure laws are a necessary feature of a democratic society that allow citizens to “know what [their] government is up to.”

The court also acknowledged that there is certain information regarding surveillance that must not be released to the public because there is a risk of compromising a security agency’s objectives.

All Americans want security as well as their privacy. However, in specific circumstances, this privacy is often compromised in an attempt to protect citizens from harm.

In times of crisis, more intrusive security is always demanded, and in times of peace, less. The dilemma created from these cyclical patterns is a bureaucratic security state that is always easier to scale up than to dismantle. Obviously, there are circumstances that require surveillance. A court-ordered, warranted surveillance is perfectly legal and the public does not have the right to be informed of such an operation. However, there exists a monumental difference between monitoring suspect individuals and mass surveillance of common civilians.

If citizens are spied on by their government due to having the same religion as certain terrorists, the government is then overstepp its constitutional prerogative.

“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,” reads the beginning of the Fourth Amendment. The government has no probable cause to invade the privacy of citizens without a warrant.

It does not matter how justifiably fearful the public is of a terrorist attack — any solution that demands warrantless surveillance in the name of public safety is ochlocracy at its finest. The American public ought to be terrified of a government beholden to the fear of mob rule that willingly violates minorities’ rights.

The court's decision regarding Abdur-Rashid and Hashmi was unfortunately a prudent decision, considering the current circumstances. Mass surveillance of American citizens is illegal, irrational and harmful to the future security of all Americans’ inalienable rights.