Homeland Security

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What is "Security"? What is "Privacy"? Does the government or any private agency have the right to listen in on your telephone conversations or put software in your computer to see what you are doing or thinking? Are you secure in your home, car or workplace from those who might want to know about your thinking, views or ideas? With the threat of 9/11 and terrorists trying to destroy the country or people's lives, where do you draw the line on "security" and "privacy" issues in the country?

Expert Answers

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In general, no one has the right to eavesdrop on you in any of these ways.  However, this does not mean that no one should be able to do these things in any circumstances.  Instead, there are all sorts of exceptions that qualify our right to privacy. 

First of all, there is clearly an exception for instances in which we voluntarily allow people to do these things.  The most obvious example of such a thing is when we allow various private companies to track our use of the Internet.  We allow this all the time and, because of it, companies can fairly accurately determine what sort of interests we have and what sorts of opinions we hold.  This is clearly not an infringement of our right to privacy.

Second, there is surely an exception for when the government has good reason to suspect us of being involved in terrorism.  It has long been accepted that the government can eavesdrop on us if they have probable cause to suspect us of crimes.  My own view is that they should have the right to listen in on our conversations and to monitor our email if they have reasonable grounds to suspect that we are involved in terrorism.  I would give the government more leeway in terrorism cases than in cases of regular crime because I believe that terrorism is a greater threat to the country than regular crime.

Outside of these exceptions, I do not think that anyone has the right to listen to our calls or monitor our Internet use.  This is where I would draw the line between security and privacy.

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