The Controversy Surrounding NSA Program
Terrorism is a rising concern that is not only bothering first world countries but also third world countries as well. Terrorist activities have spread so much in the last two decades that they now threaten countries that were previously considered immune, such countries as Kenya, Nigeria, and Tanzania.
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The government of the United States has taken this concern and in the effort to contain terrorism formed the National Security Agency (NSA) in 1952. The program targeted calling behavior of Americans both within and without USA who “had suspected links to terrorist activities” (Fisher 199).
Its would not have bee successful had it incorporated the help of American Telephone companies such as AT&T while those who refused cooperation collapsed (Levy et al 5; Fisher 198). (NSA could not operate legally without the necessary legal requirements thus the enactment of Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, FISA in 1978 (Fisher 185).
The purpose of this paper is to explore how the controversy surrounding the NSA program since its enactment especially during the reign of President George bush
Yale University School of Law Symposium explains that FISA initial intension was to ensure that all intelligence wiretaps were done for “a probable reason” (404). FISA statute required the establishment of FISA courts to grant permission for such wiretap.
However, the New York Times revealed a gross violation of this statute by the Bush administration, which eavesdropped on thousands of telephone conversations secretly, and without permission from FISA courts (Lichtblau para 1; Yale University School of Law Symposium 404).
Supporters of this move argue that FISA statutes were meant for times of peace thus did not cater for the current security threats. This belief lead to The President lifting some of the “legal restrictions” in the act that did not allowed warrant less electronic surveillance (Risen and Eric para 14).
Proponents continue to argue that this program not only needed implementation in full but also total privacy. Exposing classified information such as documents detailing war on terror to the public is equal to “advertising American war on terror” (Yale University School of Law Symposium 405).
Furthermore collecting information on ones war enemies is an age-old practice and therefore not abnormal in the war against terrorism. This makes the “Terrorist Surveillance Program” intended to collect terrorist information thousands of citizen inside and outside USA without FISA courts approval necessary as it was also in line with the US constitution (406).
FISA statute had several loopholes especially regarding executive authority. It did not address the question of the extent of presidential powers in exercising official authority.
It also does not answer the question whether the president has discretionary powers when national security is at stake and lastly legal experts question its constitutionality if in its provision too restrict executive power, limits the power of the president to act in protecting and securing Americans in dire times (Centre for Law and Security 3).
However, several people have opposed this program vehemently. Opponents state that it amounted to abuse of the law by the Bush administration. They claim that unwarranted wire taps are illegal for whatever reason and that bypassing the FISA policies is unconstitutional in two ways: it amounts to making the FISA statute optional, and it is also a grave abuse of executive authority by the president (Savage and Risen para 11).
Several US judges have also ruled unwarranted eavesdropping illegal as it intrudes into peoples private phone calls without any good reason. The knowledge that phone calls could be tapped unwarrantedly makes Americans paranoid and afraid of free phone speech, which curtails freedom of speech (Holding para 4, 5).
The initial intention of this program was to gain information that would help in the war against terrorism. However, the changing nature of the terrorism coupled with creative manipulation of the law has lead to what many calls abuse of the executive authority. In the meantime, controversy ranges on about the legality and necessity of the program.
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Center for Law and Security. “The NSA Wiretapping Program.” For The Record. 2007. Web.
Fisher, Louis. “National Security Surveillance: Unchecked or Limited Presidential Power,” in Carter, Contemporary Cases in U.S. Foreign Policy, 2011. Print.
Holding, Reynolds “Why the Wiretapping Ruling Is Vulnerable” Time. 2006. Web.
Levy, David, Leong, Joy, Bus, Lawrence & Plunkett, Michael. “Benefits- Cost Regulation of Negotiated Service Agreements.” n.d. Web.
Lichtblau, Eric. “Senate Approves Bill to Broaden Wiretap Powers.” New York Times. July 10, 2008. Web.
Risen, James and Lichtblau, Eric. “Bush Secretly Lifted Some Limits on Spying in U.S. After 9/11, Officials Say.” New York Times. December 15, 2005. Web.
Savage, Charlie and Risen, James. “Federal Judge Finds N.S.A. Wiretaps Were Illegal.” New York Times. March 31, 2010.
Yale University School of Law Symposium, “Warrant less Wiretaps,” in A Loch Johnson and James Wirtz, ed., Intelligence and National Security New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Print.