Private phones could be tapped, e-mails read and Internet searches monitored, thanks to changes in national security since Sept. 11.
The creation of the Information Awareness Office and legislation such as the USA Patriot Act and National Homeland Security Department Act has the American Civil Liberties Union and others questioning the effect they may have on constitutional rights and liberties given to United States citizens.
“I think in the (Information Awareness Office’s) zeal to try to prevent terrorist attacks, mistakes will be made,” said Robert Lawrence, a political science professor and national security expert at CSU.
One of the more recent battles has been over the newly created IAO, under the Department of Defense. The IAO, launched in February, is part of the long-standing Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency, whose aim is to develop new technology for the military and government to use in accomplishing its goals.
The IAO was created to improve the technology of unifying information in tracking terrorists.
“We must be able to detect, classify and track terrorists so that we may understand their plans and act to prevent them from being executed,” said Adm. John Poindexter, Director of the IAO of DARPA, in a prepared statement on Aug. 2. “To protect our rights, we must ensure that our systems track the terrorists and those that mean us harm.”
However, organizations like the ACLU think the IAO has too much power and could violate First and Fourth Amendment rights.
“It is clear that this proposal goes too far,” wrote the ACLU is a Nov. 15 release on their Web site. “(President) Bush said that he wanted to defend individual privacy, yet the Defense Department program makes a mockery of such privacy protections and threatens to bulldoze the judicial and Congressional restraints that have protected the public against domestic spying.”
Lawrence said the creation of the IAO is a somewhat different project than past projects under DARPA.
“DARPA goes back to the Cold War,” Lawrence said. “(IAO) directly relates to Sept. 11. Using computer technology, it would be easier to collect data on certain people”
One of the reasons that the IAO is being questioned is because of Poindexter’s goal of making “Total Information Awareness – TIA – real.” The ACLU and others are concerned this dedication may lead to intrusion of the government into the private lives of citizens. The logo on the Information Awareness Office’s Web site depicts the pyramid with the eye of Horus on top (also found on the $1 bill) casting a light from the eye on the Earth.
However, Lawrence said it is too early to tell if the IAO or DARPA is going to violate rights guaranteed to Americans.
“People get upset and claim certain things would happen,” Lawrence said. “But you would have to wait a year or two to see how it plays out.”
He said organizations like the ACLU have to wait until the government steps over the bounds of a citizen’s rights and then they could challenge the office or legislation in the courts. Lawrence predicted that a mistake by the IAO leading to a court challenge is likely.
U.S. Rep. Bob Schaffer, R-Fort Collins, agreed with Lawrence that some mistakes might be made, but a better system in preventing terrorism was needed after Sept. 11.
“There is an opportunity for more intrusion (by the IAO),” Shaffer said. “(But) there are indications that data was not coordinated enough (on Sept. 11) to provide an ample warning.”
Lawrence said the average American should not have to worry about getting his or her phone tapped or e-mail read by the IAO or another government agency.
Ben Rippe, a junior marketing major at CSU, disagreed. He said government intrusion into the private lives of citizens has probably already been going on. While the government probably has a profile of most terrorists, Rippe said they could be broad in defining what a suspected terrorist is.
“When I send e-mails I don’t really think about (the government) that much,”
he said. “(But) you never know who a terrorist is.”
Lawrence said those actively protesting against government actions and new arrivals to the country are likely to be the most scrutinized.
“It’s going to be drawing a fine line many times,” he said.
One of those activists the IAO might use their technology to track is Joe Ramagli, a CSU senior creative writing major. Ramagli has attended and organized many peace rallies throughout Colorado and Wyoming and is adamantly opposed to a possible war against Iraq. He said he thinks he is a target for potential intrusion into his private life by the federal government.
“People like myself who may speak out in one way or another may be targeted,” Ramagli said. “If our government makes efforts to silence the people, it can’t be by, for and of the people.”
Lawrence said some international students are also likely to be tracked and watched by the IAO. A provision of the USA Patriot Act, passed on Oct. 26, 2001, requires all universities to contribute to an Internet-based system of tracking their international students, called SEVIS, according to the Department of Justice Web site. The deadline for SEVIS to be fully operational is Jan. 1, 2003.
The CSU Handbook for International Students and Scholars lists many requirements for maintaining status in the U.S. and devotes the first six pages of information in the handbook to immigration laws and regulations.
Ramagli is concerned the Patriot Act could silence voices of opposition to government policies.
“I think what the un-Patriot Act does is take away our 4th Amendment rights (protecting citizens) from illegal search and seizure,” Ramagli said.
Schaffer said Congress did the best it could in a crisis situation by passing legislation in the hopes of preventing future terrorist attacks.
“I don’t have any doubt at all that three, five, 10 years from now that Congress will look back and say they made some mistakes,” Shaffer said. “But these bills are the best you can expect from Congress in a crisis situation.”
Poindexter said the betterment of technology in tracking potential terrorists should hopefully decrease the amount of intrusion into the private lives of citizens.
“We need better ways to extract information from those unified databases, and to ensure that the private information of innocent citizens are protected,” Poindexter said.
Another point of contention about the IAO is the appointment of Poindexter as director of the office. Poindexter was national security advisor for President Ronald Reagan in the 1980s. During his tenure, he took tremendous heat for his planning of the Iran-Contra scandal, in which the United States sold weapons to Iran and gave the profits to rebels in Nicaragua. While Schaffer said Poindexter has earned the confidence of President Bush, Lawrence said many were skeptical about the appointment.
“Some people are wondering if a man like that is the best person for the job,” Lawrence said.
The ACLU has been very critical of Poindexter. They wrote that Poindexter said it was his duty to withhold information from Congress and wants to create a “data-mining” system through the IAO to recover minute details about citizens’ lives.
Lawrence said usually during wartime or after an attack, American civil liberties are cut down somewhat, but expand like an accordion after the conflict is over.
“When the American public is running frightened, American liberties are collapsed somewhat,” he said.
The ACLU does not want the government to use the war on terrorism as an excuse, however.
“It has been a hallmark of American democracy that our individual privacy is protected against government intervention and snooping as long as we are not guilty of wrongdoing,” the ACLU wrote. “As Americans, we have every right to be proud of our constitutional rights and freedoms.”
Lawrence said the current situation is different because terrorism cannot ever have a final solution.
“This is quite different from World War II or the Cold War,” he said. “The war on terrorism I don’t think will be won.”
Because of the longevity of the current security threat, Lawrence said current policies restricting some privacy rights might last longer.
“It’s a new phase in American history,” he said. “(Civil liberties) could be a bone of contention for quite some time.”