Anti-Terrorism Legislation and
American Civil Liberties
This article examines anti-terrorism legislation and homeland security policies enacted after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attack and their effects on the civil liberties of American citizens. In a post 9/11 world, many laws have been created with the intent to protect the safety of innocent citizens. These laws are often encouraged initially but then viewed as excessive, unnecessary and misguided.
Anti-Terrorism Legislation and American Civil Liberties
Since the beginning of democracy, political leaders, lawyers and scholars have debated over how best to protect fundamental freedoms during times of conflict. In a nation shaped by the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, reducing domestic vulnerabilities while confronting terrorist networks and their support systems abroad have become central priorities of U.S. foreign and domestic policy. However, many argue that anti-terrorism legislation and homeland security policies adopted since the 2001 attacks infringe upon basic civil liberties granted in the U.S. Constitution. There are largely debated fundamental disagreements on how to address the threats posed by terrorist organizations. These disagreements challenge the belief that Americans can be both safe and free in a post 9/11 world. In efforts to identify how current national security policies and anti-terrorism legislation may infringe upon the civil liberties of Americans, this paper will discuss the historical development of the U.S. national security policy and the larger pieces of legislation passed following the September 11th attacks. Additionally, this paper will address the public’s perception of post 9/11 legislation, possible implications on their civil liberties as well as assess their willingness to sacrifice civil liberties in efforts to reduce the risk of terrorist attacks.
America’s National Security Structure
The United States’ National Security Structure consists of several complex organizations tasked with both specific and broad defense duties. The term national security refers to the activities the United States conducts in efforts to protect the country’s foreign and domestic interests. These activities can include anything from conducting counterterrorism operations to securing our domestic borders and consists of two components: homeland defense and homeland security. Homeland defense is the act of “protecting United States territory from armed invasion and external acts of aggression” (Sauter and Carafano, 2005, p. 211). The United States national security strategy is largely determined by the structure of the United States government and the division of power between the federal and state governments. Homeland defense is the responsibility of the federal government and homeland defense tasks are carried out by the Department of Defense and the armed forces. Homeland security is defined as “a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States, reduce America‘s vulnerability to terrorism, and minimize the damage and recover from attacks that do occur” (Sauter and Carafano, 2005, p. 211). The responsibility of conducting homeland security tasks is shared by federal and state governments, local municipalities, the private sector, and individual citizens. Homeland security policies and strategies are determined by the Homeland Security Council with the guidance of the National Security Council and the President. The Department of Homeland Security is responsible for 60 percent of the annual federal spending on domestic security and mainly focuses on border and transportation security, emergency preparedness and response, science and technology, and information analysis and infrastructure protection. Together, these two components guide a web of agencies toward one goal; protecting the United States and our way of life.
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