Privacy vs Protection



Join Active Minds for a discussion of the tension between combating terrorism and protecting individual privacy rights.  We will review various domestic surveillance techniques used by the government and explore the implications for how far this power should extend.

Key Lecture Points

  • The tension between personal liberty and national security has been part of the American experience since our country’s founding and can be seen in examples such as the suspension of Habeas Corpus protections during the Civil War, the Sedition Act of 1918, the Palmer Raids and the Cold War era.
  • The debate as to the extent to which the US Government (the Executive branch, in particular) can go to protect the nation and the extent to which citizens give up rights in an age of a nebulous, but very real, threat posed by terrorism has been intensified in the years after the 9/11 attacks.  The debate is made more complex by the advent of digitized communication technologies (e.g. smart phones, the internet) and the question of whether the data collected by those technologies is subject to government surveillance in the name of preventing terrorist attacks.
  • In June 2013, the first story broke in The Guardian about the National Security Agency’s secret surveillance of millions of Americans’ phone records and emails.  The source of the story was Edward Snowden, a contract employee who eventually received asylum in Russia.  Considered by some as a traitor and defector and by others as a whistleblower and Internet hero, Snowden re-opened the debate on the appropriate balance between national security and privacy in this time of terrorist threats.  The disclosures have set off an intense debate over US government surveillance.

Exploration Questions

  • Describe 3 events in American history that illustrate the tension in a free society between individual liberties and national security needs.
  • What have been the ramifications of the Snowden case for US domestic and foreign policies?

Reflective Questions

  • Do you think Snowden is a whistleblower concerned about personal liberties or a defector guilty of espionage?  Why?
  • Do you think Americans have given up too much of their individual freedoms for the sake of the War on Terror?  What is the appropriate balance?

More to Explore

Books for Further Reading

  • Crumpton, Henry A. The Art of Intelligence: Lessons from a Life in the CIA’s Clandestine Service.  Penguin Books, 2013. 352 pages. A 24- year veteran of the CIA describes his career and the CIA’s role in the way America wages war in the post 9/11 world.
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  • Aid, M. Matthew. Intel Wars: The Secret History of the Fight Against Terror. Bloomsbury Press, 2013. 272 pages. Tells the story of the US intelligence colossus and the secret war it is fighting.
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  • Landau, Susan. Surveillance or Security?: The Risks Posed by New Wiretapping Technologies.  MIT Press, 2013. 383 pages. This cybersecurity expert describes how our surveillance paradigms no longer fit new online technologies and makes recommendations as to how our wiretapping policies should be updated.
    Click here to order