It comes as a surprise that the right to privacy is not specifically mentioned in the US Constitution. It is supposed to be one of the most fundamental and basic right of a human being. In essence, privacy is respect for other people’s personal space. Though it is not specifically mentioned in the United States Constitution, the Supreme Court in a number of cases has affirmed that we have a right to privacy. It has interpreted the Third Amendment, Fourth Amendment and the Fifth Amendment and the Ninth Amendment as giving the citizens and the residents of the United States the right to privacy.
The right to privacy is affirmed in the case of Roe v. Wade where the Supreme Court ruled that:
“This right to privacy, whether it be founded in the Fourteenth Amendment’s concept of personal liberty and restrictions upon state action, as we feel it is, or, as the District Court determined, in the Ninth Amendment’s reservation of rights to the people, is broad enough to encompass a woman’s decision whether or not to terminate her pregnancy. The detriment that the State would impose upon the pregnant woman by denying this choice altogether is apparent.”
The issue of the extent and scope of the right to privacy has once again become the center of attention in view of the 9/11 attack. The US Patriot Act was passed in response to terrorist threats from the Al Qaeda and other extremist groups, the United States Congress, with the support of President George W. Bush passed the US Patriot Act. This law became the basis of various intrusions into the rights to privacy of every American citizen. According to Shannon McCaffrey “the government’s use of secret surveillance warrants to track spies and terrorists surge to a record high in 2003, surpassing for the first time the number of wiretaps sought by law enforcement in traditional criminal cases.” (1)
In view of the USA Patriot Act, the NSA, FBI and other government agency were given authority to conduct what could probably be the largest surveillance in human history (Thomas R. Eddlem 1). Government agencies have issued National Security Letters to different phone companies, internet providers, banks, and credit card companies demanding from them information about their client’s phone records, electronic communications, bank accounts and credit card bills without a warrant issued by the court (Neil Conan 2). These letters seek to determine whether the persons under investigation have possible links with any known terrorists. They justify these privacy intrusions as part of the powers of President Bush as the commander-in-chief of the Armed Forces. The intrusion to our privacy is deemed justified in view of the paramount interest of protection of national security and territorial integrity.
On the other hand, some are suspicious and fearful of the possibility that information gathered from the Nation Security Letters may be inaccurate, or misinterpreted or even misused for other purposes. When government agencies detect something that they may consider unusual from these documents then the person is immediately presumed guilty which violates the constitutional presumption of innocence.
It is because of this reason that I disagree with the opinion of Robert Vodde that “Americans need to trust the government to do what is necessary to keep the citizenry safe, and that may include warrantless domestic eavesdropping.” Firstly allowing warrantless domestic eavesdropping seriously violates the fundamental protection accorded to us by the US Constitution. Secondly, there are procedures that must be observed by the state when they conduct domestic surveillance to guaranty that liberties are not violated. One of these procedures is to secure a search warrant or a warrant of arrest from the courts before any person is spied on. Search warrants provide a limitation to the limitless power of the state. It is mandated under the US Constitution. Without search warrant then there will be nobody that has the power to oversee the manner by which the state conducts its surveillance.
In this time of crisis, there is more reason for the government to violate the rights and liberties of the people. It gives the public all the more reason to become more vigilant and protective of their rights. Our nation is in crisis. We are currently under a severe economic crisis. People are losing their jobs, their houses, and their investments in various institutions. For some people, however, there are somethings worse than losing one’s job or house or investment. What is worse is when a person’s right is violated. Jobs can be regained. Investments can be recovered. Houses can be rebuilt. Violation of a right, however, affects not only a single person. It affects the entire citizenry. It also reflects on the kind of government which committed the violation. Most of all, every act of violation of right destroys the fundamental principles of democracy which this country proudly proclaims.