Symposium 2015: In light of recent terrorist attacks, should the federal government increase domestic surveillance? How far should a domestic surveillance program be allowed to go?

Owatanna, MN Correspondent-If the federal government expects domestic terrorist attacks in the future, then unfortunately, they should increase domestic surveillance.  This is unfortunate because government is always too eager to place everyone in the “suspicious” category, presume guilt instead of innocence, and end up harassing or worse citizens whose behavior may not conform to arbitrary standards of proper conduct.

It’s clear that any increase in surveillance must be cyberspace oriented since this seems to be the preferred mode of communication and instruction for terrorist groups. Along with that should be increased monitoring of cell phone calls and texts. This must be kept in perspective, since domestic terrorism accounts for very few deaths and injuries compared to everyday random gun violence related to gangs, drugs, and poverty.  We need to ask ourselves if it’s worth money, manpower, and time to ferret out one or two terror plots in a year in order to prevent a handful of innocent deaths.  Or are those resources better spent on addressing our domestic violence problems?

Since it’s in the federal government’s best interest to keep the population afraid and therefore willing to pay taxes to fight terrorism, the feds will always overstate the problem.  They’ll use scare tactics and alarmist rhetoric to make us feel like we’re in a war zone here at home, while at the same time promising to take the fight to the terrorist so they “won’t invade our shores.”  Perhaps the real solution is to put terrorism into perspective compared with all other perceived problems and dangers the country faces, and allocate resources where they will benefit the most people and prevent the greatest loss of life.

Myrtle Beach, SC Correspondent- If it makes me safer I’m alright with it.  Kind of like TSA pat downs, I have no problem with them because ultimately they make me safer when I board a plane (arguably).  I also have nothing to hide.  I’m not saying that those who oppose it have something to hide, but me personally, I’m an open book.  So on the surface I say yeah, go for it.

Now, that being said my problem with increased surveillance is that, contrary to what the Government wants us to believe, not EVERYONE employed by the United States is 100% honest.  What would happen if surveillance data was to fall into the wrong hands?  How could this be used against us personally or as a country?

Scary thought.  So, until we can ensure that this surveillance won’t fall into the wrong hands, which really can’t happen, I say we hold off.

Prescott Valley, AZ Correspondent-The increase in terrorist attacks around the world and in America have given intelligence and military officials the impetus to increase domestic surveillance, but the federal government has done its best to downplay, sideline and mask what terrorism has done to America, and how, in their view, it should be confronted.

The government’s idea of domestic surveillance is taking behavioral information as outlined in a 2015 executive order (Social and Behavior Sciences Team) that gives government agencies the ability to use psychological science and data to connect Americans with government programs.  A program like this one is just an example of the tactics used to garner private information from everyday citizens as well as examine how citizens make decisions about certain things and act on them.  It’s another way of getting people involved in more government sponsored programs while collecting information on them at the same time.

Another recent program, the “Strong Cities Network” announced in late September of 2015, which partners with foreign cities to fight violent extremism, (not Islamic terrorism) is structured to fight discrimination, racism and hate crimes against Muslims, which implicates everyday Americans.  This program is connected to another more recent program through the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of Justice (DOJ).  It is the “Intelligence report on right wing extremism,” which enables the government to protect others against “white nationalists” and extremists who believe they can ignore laws and demand their individual rights.  The comparison can be made with this kind of domestic surveillance to the Kentucky county clerk, Kim Davis, who went to jail to protest the Supreme Court’s gay marriage ruling.  To the federal government she appeared to be a domestic threat while an Islamic terrorist living in the United States can be protected.

Other examples of the way domestic surveillance is built in to other agencies of the federal government or programs such as Obamacare’s Federal Data Services Hub, which is  a comprehensive database of personal information established by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).  It was formed to facilitate the Affordable Care Act’s health insurance exchanges. Other federal agencies in the domestic surveillance business include the IRS, which monitored Tea Party organizations and other conservative groups that had asked for tax-exempt status.  Then there are the up scaled operations of the NSA that utilized surveillance in various capacities with eavesdropping on Americans  through any number of means such as information about call logs,  phone calls, phone call durations, emails, internet use and other personal information, and it could be the FBI gathering any information they want through a National Security Letter.  There is no end to domestic surveillance operations.

With all the convoluted tactics, unfounded suspicions, and rushes to judgment by the federal government to categorize American citizens as domestic terrorists and right wing extremists, it is apparent that these actions have already led to an increase in domestic surveillance programs.  Rather than increasing surveillance, the revamping of current programs should be the focus.  The best solutions are to closely monitor those who pose a threat to the homeland whether a citizen, non-citizen or suspected terrorist from another country.  These are the kinds of individuals that need to be profiled and tracked, particularly those who have come into the country on special visas or as refugees and intend to incite a plot and carry out their plans  within a city, town, or other area.

Domestic surveillance should only go as far as it is needed and should only profile known suspects whose actions have been thoroughly confirmed by trusted witnesses, intelligence operatives on the ground, as well as technical intelligence data and reports from verifying agencies.   When bona fide potential informants or whistleblowers are stifled from revealing crimes and lies and are further intimidated, threatened, injured, or eliminated because of what they know or don’t know about potential or real domestic terrorism, surveillance has gone too far.  The same rings true for targeted, so-called domestic dissidents, particularly if they do not meet profile characteristics and have been unfairly hounded, indicted, imprisoned, or done away with because of suspicions by the government.  If domestic surveillance programs continue with invasion of privacy and intimidation without the restructuring and restricting of their operations, the real purpose of surveillance will lose its effectiveness.

Sheffield, Jamaica Correspondent-Over the years, countless individuals have been spied on.  The privacy of these individuals was breached, because they were seen as noteworthy individuals who spoke out against issues affecting people and the nation on a whole.  Individuals such as Martin Luther King, boxer Muhammad Ali, and even Art Buchwald, were spied on because of what they stood for.  In fact, it was just recently it was unveiled that the Senate Intelligence Committee was spied on by the CIA.  Really, even after recent terrorist attacks, should the federal government step up their game and increase domestic surveillance?

The domestic surveillance programme should not be led to go beyond where it is.  In fact, if the country was to be given in the hands of a tyrant, we’ll all be doomed, as the intelligence community will be tampered with and technological advancements would be implemented to infringe on our privacy.  However, should domestic surveillances be used to scope out terrorists? That is a tricky question. We cannot assume that one is a terrorist if they speak against a movement that America has put in place, or against the U.S. foreign policy.  People have their opinions and as a result of free will, they can voice those opinions in a respectful and appropriate environment. However, things still stand, “If you have nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about.”


Gastonia, NC Correspondent- This question has me wrestling with my liberal nature.  As a lifelong free-thinking, granola crunching “all men are brothers” type of guy, I want to say that the government has no business running surveillance on American citizens.  That’s the sort of nightmare Orwell envisioned, and the idea that my government would have the ability to snoop on me and my fellow citizens should leave me consumed with righteous indignation and wrapping myself in a ‘Don’t Tread On Me’ flag.

But it doesn’t.

I am a father of two sons in elementary school.  While both schools are fine places full of fantastic teachers, one is bordered by two neighborhoods that I wouldn’t willingly venture into at night, and the other is in a business park area where there are innumerable offices filled with small business and other enterprises the intents of which are not clear to me.

Am I being paranoid?  Maybe so.  But when I hear over and over and over again on the news that the latest mass shooter had social media postings that indicated she had become a radicalized Muslim, or that he had recently been posting pictures of his gun collection and talking about “soft targets,” it makes me want a Justice Department set of eyes on every post that hits Facebook.

Criminals, be they common thieves or mass murderers, have a long-documented tendency toward what cops call “verbal diarrhea.”  They talk about their acts, their plans, their victims and the modus operandi sometimes well in advance of their actions.  While I’m not for a moment suggesting some sort of “Minority Report”-style pre-crime unit that would arrest people thought to be about to commit a crime, I’d fully support something akin to the friendly neighborhood beat cop stopping to talk to a kid he thinks is about to get in trouble.

Cartwright—If you use Facebook or Google or Apple or Amazon and you have a problem with domestic surveillance, you’re out of touch with reality.  Facebook, Google, and your cell phone provider know about you and what you do than Uncle Sam does.  Do you think the federal government is listening in to the phone calls of nearly 400 million people in America?  That’s not happening, but is Google tracking your every move on the internet?  You bet your ass they are.  Ever get pop-up ads for something you looked at on Amazon a week ago?  Think that’s a coincidence?  Think again.  They know what you’re looking at online.  They know what you like, what you want, what your habits and patterns are.  They know all this about you.  Your cell phone provider may even know where you are right at this moment.  Does Uncle Sam know that you looked at a pair of shoes on Amazon last week?  Probably not.

This is a serious issue for sure.  The last thing I want is for the federal government to have more power over individuals and more information about individuals.  We still have a reasonable expectation of privacy but we have to be willing to make some sacrifices in the name of making America a safer place.  Logistically, the federal government doesn’t have the resources to listen in on everyone’s calls, for example.  If they want to listen to what I’m talking about on the phone, have at it.  It’s probably pretty boring stuff most of the time.  Do I want them listening to me?  No.  Do I want them listening to a suspected terrorist or someone with terrorist ties?  Yes.  The federal government does have limited resources when it comes to domestic surveillance.  More often than not, they’re going to focus those resources in the right places and they’re going to be working within the parameters of the law which means they’re going to need court orders to listen in on your calls.

If you go to some big cities, Big Brother is watching you walk down the street and get on the subway and so on.  There are cameras everywhere we go.  The reality is we’re under surveillance just about all the time as it is—online, at the grocery store, in the restaurant, walking down the street, and so on—and most of this surveillance is done by private business owners who have no obligation to you.  So, is it really that big of a deal?

Let’s consider something else.  The odds of anyone in this room or anyone that anyone in this room knows being killed by a terrorist here in America is remote.  You probably have a better chance of winning the Powerball than you do of being killed or of knowing someone being killed by a terrorist here in the United States.  It’s just that simple.  Of course, this is the counter argument to more surveillance.  Why focus our resources here when the odds of a terrorist attack are so low?  Why not focus our efforts on spying on people with terrorist ties overseas?

On the other hand, our intelligence community has stopped a number of terrorist plots and may have stopped many more that we don’t know about.  I like most Americans want to be safe and want America to be safe.  Can we accomplish this without giving up some of our privacy?  No.  Are ordinary Americans giving up any more of their privacy for domestic surveillance programs than they do for Google, Facebook, Amazon, etc?  No, and in fact, we’re probably giving up less.

Personally, I think surveillance of Facebook and other social media outlets is fair game, for example.  I also think surveillance of foreigners living here in America and visiting America is fair game, especially those from countries with known terrorist ties.  And, if you’re an American and you decide to travel to a country with terrorist ties, stay for a while, then come back, maybe you should be under surveillance too.  Who should be under surveillance: mom, dad, and the kids who go to the beach on vacation or someone who goes to Iraq for a vacation?  Who should be under more surveillance:  someone’s grandmother from Kansas or a twenty year old male, Syrian “refugee?”

Let’s use some common sense here people and recognize that we gave up our privacy long ago.

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