Public surveillance should be limited

The taboo of secrecy that surrounds one of the most mysterious courts in the United States has been threatened by the active case of United States of America v. Adel Daoud. Daoud is being prosecuted for an attempt to detonate a car bomb in Chicago, and on Jan. 29, a Chicago district court made history by allowing his lawyer to review Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC) documents.

The FISC can authorize surveillance on almost any individual in the U.S. Such a broad right to surveillance exists because of Americans’ extreme fear of terrorism. But this is now changing, as American citizens are finally looking to reclaim some of their freedoms and levied privacy.

In the years immediately following the Sept. 11 attacks, the smell of jingoism, or foreign policy fueled by patriotism, filled the air as a shocked nation tried to rationalize what occurred. President George W. Bush repeatedly proclaimed the strength of American people and American military. The most logical move seemed to be the pursuit of retribution against those who had perpetrated the attack.

A shocked citizenry consented to the use of extreme and unconstitutional measures to find and incarcerate “terrorists.” The USA Patriot Act massively expanded the government’s ability to conduct surveillance on people suspected of plotting or supporting terrorist activity. Nobody flinched in the face of these new infringements on civil liberties.

Now that the smoke has cleared, it appears evident that the American people no longer wish to stomach this level of surveillance. In 2013, Edward Snowden revealed that the FISC demanded that Verizon Wireless turn over lists of “telephony metadata.” This includes detailed records of phone calls made over the Verizon network – records that presumably include detailed lists of many of the calls students at this university have made. The shock and aggravation produced by Snowden’s intelligence leaks would not have been present in the years closely following the Sept. 11 attacks.

The recent ruling on the Daoud case also indicates this trend. The judiciary is no longer willing to compromise the rights citizens demand in the name of national security. Paralyzing fear has been replaced by a renewed interest in the principles of due process and legitimacy that are so central to the American justice system.

A review of these FISC documents determines if the wiretaps and evidence gathered will be permissible in a court of law. The capacity to suppress evidence falls under the umbrella of the Fourth Amendment, which prohibits unreasonable search and seizure without a warrant. Daoud’s lawyer will investigate the content of court documents to determine if sufficient evidence was present to issue a warrant for surveillance.

Granted, this is still a far cry from total transparency in these secret court rulings. Daoud’s lawyer has top-secret security clearance, and these documents will be reviewed in secrecy. Additionally, the rulings of the Chicago court are not binding on any other federal courts.  Regardless, it seems that its ruling indicates a larger shift in the public opinion of American society.

We should applaud the court’s decision, because citizens have a duty to protect their freedoms. As the wise Benjamin Franklin put it, “He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security.”


David Silverman is a freshman majoring in economics.