Viewpoint: Don’t Let the Boston Bombing Take Away Our Privacy Rights

The head of the ACLU argues that overreacting to events in Boston could turn America into a surveillance state

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The Boston attacks largely confirmed what we already knew about surveillance cameras. They don’t stop attacks – not in Boston, and not even in London or Times Square, which are blanketed with cameras. They can, however, be helpful in investigations, as they were in Boston. No one objects to cameras at high-profile targets or events; at the same time, we at the American Civil Liberties Union think there needs to be a balance. Government surveillance of everyone’s activities anywhere in public without proper checks and balances could fundamentally alter the way we live our everyday lives.

(MORE: The Boston Bombing: Should Cameras Now Be Everywhere?)

When Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev were first identified as suspects in the Boston Marathon bombing we knew very little about them, except that they were brothers, immigrants and Muslim. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, the NYPD reacted to the threat of future terrorism with a years-long program of un-American profiling, casting a wide net of suspicion over innocent American Muslims throughout the northeastern United States. Based on a false and unscientific “radicalization” theory, the NYPD spied on entire communities in their places of worship, small businesses, and student- and community-based organizations, based solely on their religious beliefs, race, or national origin. A NYPD official later testified that information collected through the NYPD’s program did not produce any leads for terrorism investigations. Instead, predictably, the NYPD’s actions wrongly stigmatized law-abiding Muslims, caused them to deeply distrust the police force instead of seeing it as a source of protection, and wasted law enforcement resources.

(MORE: Post-Boston Marathon, How Races Are Heightening Security)

Throughout American history, in times of fear, fundamental civil liberties are often restricted in the name of security. Later, those curbs on our freedoms are regretted, but reversing them may take years and may ultimately affect our notions of what constitutes freedom and fairness in the first place.

Let’s not lose sight of the lessons we’ve learned about trading our liberties for a false sense of security in light of the tragedy that occurred in Boston. We must not overreact by engaging in profiling that undermines American values or creating a surveillance society that will strip us of privacy without doing anything to prevent or deter terrorism.

Anthony Romero is the Executive Director of the American Civil Liberties Union. The views expressed are solely his own.

(MORE: Read TIME’s Cover Story: Homeland Insecurity)

10 comments
punkakes13
punkakes13

false sense of security. they may to now have found the real ones who done it

but notoriously, the  suspects r gonna be these

and thats how it is

sense of security

Hadrewsky
Hadrewsky

Granted Muslims have done a hell of a job making their faith into a radicalization factory to pop out faith-zombies by the dozen...


But the US is just going too damned far with the security thing,... we CANNOT STOP SMALL ATTACKS PERIOD

JohnArcher
JohnArcher

Why does the US government, press and people make so much fuss of a minor bombing incident? Two kids with a cooking pot and fireworks!

From my viewpoint here in New Zealand, it seems to be to draw attention away from the 30 people every day killed in the USA by gunfire, the 30 people killed each day by drunken drivers and goodness know how many every day killed by the high-sugar, high-fat Coca Cola/McDonalds diets US citizens are brainwashed into consuming when they are young children.

cmarrou
cmarrou

"Based on a false and unscientific “radicalization” theory, the NYPD spied on entire communities in their places of worship, small businesses, and student- and community-based organizations, based solely on their religious beliefs, race, or national origin."

So according to the ACLU, it's simply a massive coincidence that the bombers ended up being radicalized Muslims from another country. Up next - the search for vicious home-grown terrorists in Kearney, Nebraska!

sirdenn
sirdenn

What's the big deal with the Boston bombers? Britain had to put up with 30 years of US sponsored bombing in Northern Ireland and mainland Britain, people are being bombed all the time in Afganistan and Iraq because of allied intervention - so the chickens have come home to roost. The UK is supposed to be the biggest "surveillance society" in the world but it didn't stop the London bombers!

cent-fan
cent-fan

I work in a company with cameras in the hallways.  I got gas at a gas station with cameras over the pumps today.  My last purchase from Amazon went into their database along with my credit card company's database and probably my bank's database and anyone on line that those folks talk to.  Heck, my last search on line probably made the rounds.

So where should I begin to get all the cameras turned off and my keystrokes ignored that won't get me fired, that won't let a killer get away with a crime, or that won't stomp on the Constitution as popularly and loosely interpreted.  After all, I have the right to a heavy machine gun and limpet mines according to the Second Amendment.

jmac
jmac

Articles like this are why I quit the ACLU.   Cameras are everywhere in the form of cell phones; we are a "surveillance society" due to technology.    Nothing's going to change that.    We're not in the wild west anymore and if you're out in public you're on stage.  Obviously, if a crime is committed the police will look at the suspect's place of work, or worship if relevant,  friends, family,  etc.   If they didn't, they wouldn't be doing their job.  

Woody_Brown
Woody_Brown

It's really all about living-up to our own bumper-stickers: No Fear.

It's about whether America and Americans actually constitute: The land of the Free and home of the Brave.

Surveillance isn't security...it's cowardice.  It is constant threat of prosecution by the 'Property Party', aimed at law abiding citizens to pacify their free will.  It insisted that, unless you have business, you've no business here...so why aren't you at home or work?

The Patriot Act isn't patriotic...it's treasonous.  It allows for the infiltration of our persons, our home and even our thoughts by and every conceivable form of presence.  It insists that security is nothing short of total exposure, naked, cavity searched and personal details revealed.

Lock-downs aren't a safety measure.  They're a limited liability precaution.  They're an usurpation of individual liberties by corporation and governmental needs to avoid potential lawsuits at all costs. 

The militarization of our police forces isn't a proportional  response, it's terrified overkill.  SWAT-like policing actions are almost never necessary.  To justify the costs, police now routinely deploy these commando tactics in common civilian and domestic situations.

All of the above have already transformed America into a police state.  They have stripped us of our bravery and our liberty.  They've perpetuated fear and terror enough that too many of our brains have been washed into actually feeling grateful for this repression.  

Quite simply, we are Stockholm Syndrome victims.  Our fundamental principle of freedom was kidnapped by a Neo-Con.  We are held hostage, without ransom now, by a 'Look Forward' need to avoid investigation, retrial and repeal of that capital crime against our inalienable liberties.

These things are the death of our Constitution, the end of the great American experiment with inalienable rights.  Our nation allows only freedom for the few and justice for the judgmental.  The American Dream is over...out nightmares are just beginning.

fitty_three
fitty_three like.author.displayName 1 Like

I think maybe, just maybe, you should be more concerned about how local and state governments, as well as commercial interests do it rather than just the federal government.

You've got your shotgun ready to hand, looking the wrong way while other foxes are raiding the henhouse...