Privacy and Civil Liberties in Homeland Security

Privacy and Civil Liberties in Homeland Security


The act of securing a nation is as important as ensuring that citizens feel safe in their country. The United States is one country that has since time immemorial focused on the safety of its citizens. In 2001, the United States woke up to an attack of the World Trade Centre and this prompted action to be taken. The idea was to create a department that would deal with matters of internal security. During the tenure of President George W Bush, the department was established. The department is supposed to work with federal agencies and other governmental organizations to protect the country from terrorism-related activities (Gillen, & Morrison, 2015). Over the years, the department has ensured that the country is safe from terrorist attacks and threats by encouraging policing, specialization and centralization. However, in the name of securing and keeping the country safe, the Department of Homeland Security has put at stake the privacy as well as civil liberties of the citizens. The issue of control orders by Homeland Security has been a controversial topic since its inception. At what time is curtailing civil liberties appropriate for the sake of national security? Does there exist a trade-off between privacy, civil liberties, and national security? When should individual freedom be curtailed without them being charged or being brought within the criminal justice system? These questions matter a lot to the United States citizens as much as they matter to any other person.

Homeland Security in the efforts to combat terrorism and secure the United States citizens has come up with laws, which allow the government to impose control orders on individuals suspected of posing a significant terrorist threat. These laws restrict where these people are allowed to go, things they are allowed to possess, and the type of interaction and communication they are supposed to have. Through this, the civil liberties of the citizens, which are provided for in the Constitution under the Fourth Amendment are curtailed. Over the years, people have debated whether it is right to trade individual’s liberty for national security. These topic has drawn a lot of significance and has resulted in many scholars to put forward their views in it. Although a level ground has not been achieved, different opinions and ideologies are about the issues of trading privacy and civil liberties with security. Different politicians, authors, and activists have raised their voice about the issue. Till now, it is not clear whether the Homeland Security has the power to curtail individuals’ freedom at the expense of national security or whether it should respect the privacy and civil liberties of the citizens as they are provided by in the Constitution. To understand this issue and try to get insights for future research, it becomes imperative to review different literature about the topic of Privacy and Civil Liberties in Homeland Security.

Literature Review

#_&–$#$ observe that security in the United States security system is concerned with terrorist threats. These threats prevent the protection of the integrity of the United States; thus, it has emulated strategies to protect its territory. Further, the conceptualization of human security, before the introduction and adoption of the Department of Homeland Security, there was an interrelatedness of various forms of security as well as the importance of human development. In the traditional approach, security strategies did not combine the “freedom from fear” (also known as human rights) and the freedom from want (which is the human development), as the foundational approaches in ensuring human security and development.

An aspect that stood out in the enforcement of the traditional human security was, therefore, the security of states. Thus, the incorporation of national security as a conceptualized incorporation of minimum core aspects of human rights and human developments is complicated by the traditional approaches of human security.  Human security that now combines both human rights and the human development (Kaldor, 2006), presents a somewhat “soft” policy in the approach to security, where both material and physical security come to play. Considering these features of the present human security and the traditional human security, it is evident that the objectives of the security as well as the strategies adopted to ensure human protection are varied, with the traditional (existing measures) hindering the implementation of the contemporary forms of human security.

According to #_#$&, there are very critical issues that relate to the right to privacy, personal data protection, free from unnecessary surveillance and right to human rights, especially in this digital era. They include the right to protection against unlawful or arbitrary interference with the personal data and privacy of an individual; protection of the law; who is protected; the procedural safeguards and effective oversight; and the right to effective remedy #_&6. There are various reports on criticism about mass surveillance and its implications of human rights. The Department of Homeland Security under the Office of Intelligence and Analysis has been a victim of criticism; whereby, various journalists and human rights activities have accused the agency of illegal spying. Office of Intelligence and Analysis is involved in the dragnet surveillance of the communication records of ordinary Americans.

According to a report by the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) (2018), the Office of Intelligence and Analysis has been accused of intercepting phone calls for the local Americans. The interception of the phone calls was therefore considered as the violation of human privacy, under the US constitution and as established by Congress.  In their response to the perceived illegal surveillance and access to personal data and breach of privacy, EFF fought back the activities in courts, where victims of the surveillance are represented in courts; Jewel v. NSA and First Unitarian v. NSA (EFF, 2018).  All these legal cases are aimed at serving justice to the victims of the “illegal” surveillance of their private, political and religious communications in the US. Besides, the EFF aims to ensure that human rights are preserved. In regards to these cases, there is enough evidence that the proponents of human rights are opposed to surveillance and access to personal data by the security agencies. In the long run, if such courts cases achieve their mission, which is to stop surveillance, then it will be impossible to provide human security and human development through surveillance.

Echoing the sentiments of $_45##, “the U.S has experienced abuses of power in times of war and almost unilateral disarmament in times of seeming calm.” It is unlikely the United States is any time going to be lenient on the war against terrorism. This being the case, $_3#$, is concerned that it is soon going to come to a point where Americans will no longer tolerate the invasion of their privacy and the deamination of their civil liberties at the expense of national security. Following the nightclub killings in Orlando, Florida in 2016, and many politicians voiced their view on the need to infringe on the civil liberties of Americans citizens as well as the residents. In this regards, @$&-5$@# argue that politicians, as well as other stakeholders of the same view, miss a vital point. The argument Friedersdorf (2016) put across is that infringement on the civil liberties would do little if anything to keep the citizens secure and safer. Besides, he argues that such actions would only assist terror groups in a greater extent removing freedoms and protection against government abuses.

In an article Balancing Security and Liberty, Kim R. Holmes argues that liberty depends on security. In this sense, Americans would not claim for civil liberties if there is no adequate security. Holmes also argues that freedom depends on getting rid of the threat of terrorism. “As long as terrorist keep threatening our homeland, we will never be free 4665666-.” Although he is of the idea that it is of great importance for lawmakers to preserve the civil liberties outlined in the Constitution, he agrees that it is equally important to suspend some civil liberties temporarily in a state of emergency. The example given here is the right to be free from unreasonable searches and seizures. Holmes continues to argue that Americans should be made to understand that they only have a constitutional right to complete privacy if the lives of others are not endangered. In the situation where the lives other people are endangered, the government through its security agencies including the Homeland security has the mandate to infringe to the citizens’ privacy in a bid to save lives &-43_. According to Holmes, Americans should not at any time refuse to give investigators either from the Department of Homeland Security or any other agency access to potentially critical information because the techniques used to gather such information do not abide by the constitutional standards. “Unreasonable fear of losing some civil liberties should not be enough reason to deny the United States under its security agencies the information needed for stopping the very thing that would ruin the Constitution, and it’s provisioned @$$##3.” However, Holmes urge Americans to be cautious not to expose sensitive intelligence information on terrorists.

In another dimension, most people have voiced their concerns about specific program and technologies used by government security agencies to safeguard national security. @#&, observes that the nature of surveillance, privacy, and personal data have been greatly influenced by the technological developments; where technology has ensured that the overwhelmingly expensive practical approach has become relatively inexpensive and straightforward.  It is essential that the new strategies in protecting human security appreciate and adopt technology in the fight against various forms of human insecurity involving personal data, privacy, and surveillance. According to Bernal (2016), technology such as the use of drones has enabled easy access to biometric and geological data of various people without their consent.

13466 is of the idea that the Domestic Nuclear Detection Office, National Protection and Programs Directorate among other agencies of the Department of Homeland Security are controlled by technological inventions and innovations. These agencies have embraced the different types of technologies, where cameras are used in the documentation criminal acts. Further, the use of technologies like drones and various satellite technologies are also crucial in the collection of information. @#$_& adds that although the existence of big data that is collected from various social media platforms can be of great importance in combating terrorism as well as other domestic attacks, their access and use can be a violation of individuals privacy.

In as much as the data gathered using these technological innovations may seem to breach human rights to privacy and personal data, the security agencies should appreciate the positive impacts that data-driven technologies have in transforming human security (Latonero & Gold, 2015). These new technologies should be embraced as the tools for potential intervention by data analytics in making decisions about human security and human rights. Analytics tools can be used to filter the big data, though through a legal framework, to find signals concerning the potential threats while identifying the persons in need (Goldberg, 2014).

The data that is collected from social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter, as well as crowd-sourced data can be used to give insight into individual case studies. Therefore, data-driven monitoring, through a well-laid down approach can help model human rights abuses, and thereby help in capturing of various human insecurity phenomenon while ensuring human security #$$#. Overall, the use of advanced technologies such as data mining techniques can significantly contribute to monitoring and witnessing of human insecurity situations; where the introduction of the data-centric technologies should contribute to the protection of human rights while ensuring human security and human development $&+75&.

The sentiments on the use of technology to secure the United States have been stressed by #_&57. This article argues that any programs established to offer security to the citizens should be “in a manner that fosters both civil liberty and public safety.” The argument here is that the Constitution weighs heavily on both sides of the debate over national security and civil liberties. In this sense, there is a need for policymakers including the Department of Homeland Security to be respectful individuals’ privacy and defend civil liberties. Nevertheless, whenever there is a serious threat from a foreign enemy, 235@$ argues that policymakers should not hesitate to curtail some civil liberties by following the laid procedures. @$_& acknowledges that in as much as security agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security have constitutional powers to safeguard the citizens, they sometimes do not follow the laid out procedures and in most cases act imprudent and outside their powers.

According to #_&_#$, policy programs by government security agencies should be developed in such a way that the fundamental civil liberties guaranteed by the United States Constitution are not breached or infringed. Besides, the intrusion of privacy must be justifiable. By this, it means that the nature, the significance, and severity of the threat that the policy program addresses should justify the intrusion. In this sense, any policy program or technology that shows to the justification in diminishing a security threat should be embraced even if it involves invasion of personal privacy in its operations. For example, strip searches at airports should be justified not to discourage people from visiting the United States. Finally, the article argues that if less intrusive means are available that can achieve the same result at a reasonable comparable cost, policymakers should adopt such.


The objective of maintaining national security is to ensure that the vital core of human lives is protected from the threats (economic, political, social and environmental conflicts). In this digital era,  insecurity on human lives such as unauthorized access to personal data, breach of privacy is prevalent.  In this regards, the safeguard of national security by Homeland Security should be considered in the context of provision and promotion of effective and secure identification of the pervasive threats, prevention of threats, and respect to philosophical and ethical aspects of security as well as respect for civil liberties as provided for by the Constitution. In this regard, national security should be people-centered, where the focus on the protection of individual lives, communities, and societies are universal and non-discriminatory. Moreover, the long-term fulfillment and sustainable goals of national security by Homeland Security should embrace human security as a process of an ongoing human development, where all the concerned stakeholders support the participation, freedom, diversity, and institutional appropriateness in the protection of human lives. Nonetheless, the appreciation of the fundamental human rights should not be allowed to jeopardize the fight against terrorism as well as other forms of domestic threats. Overall, technology should be embraced in the protection of human development as well as in ensuring national security due to their essential roles in tackling new and emerging threats and forms of violence on the vulnerable populations across the world.