Surveillance is a key intelligence tool that has the potential to assist significantly to national security but also to infringe municipal liberties. This potential is especially important because information science and expertise have expanded dramatically the mechanisms by which data can be assembled and information extracted and thereafter disseminated. Moreover, in times of national or social threat, history has demonstrated that governments often expand surveillance and other powers at the expense of civilian rights; this expansion is accompanied by arguments that the blameless have not anything to fear, that mistakes can be amended, and that the status quo will come back when the danger is past. All too often, history also confirms that these powers are inclined to become a new and diminished baseline of legal rights.
This chapter examines the evolution of government surveillance in the U.S. from the emergence of organized policing, through the early efforts addressing sociopolitical threats, to the passage of the U.S.A. Patriot Act and additional proposals addressing the new threat of terrorism. It does so in the context of the very real threat presented to the nation today, the require for government to have the necessary understanding to fight back the public alignment, and the concomitant require for productive checks and balances to guarantee individual rights. It proposes that oversight and transparency can best defend national security and individual liberty.
The contributions to American national security made by information professionals are well documented. Indeed, throughout the era of the Cold War, information science concepts and tools assisted substantially to the defeat of an intractable enemy. Whether threats (e.g., the Khrushchev boast at a diplomatic greeting in 1956 that “We will entomb you”) or obstructions (e.g., the famous shoe-banging episode at the United Nations General Assembly in 1960), there was little question then that the security of the nation and its persons was at stake (Andrews, Biggs, & Seidel, 1996).
Critical principle issues are at stake when considering information science and understanding, granted that an essential component of the understanding mission is the assemblage of information in relative to individuals through surveillance—officially characterised by the U.S. Government (U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, 2001, p. 438) as “the systematic observation or supervising of … places, persons, or things by visual, aural, electrical devices, photographic or other means.” Because surveillance encompasses a broad array of techniques, ranging functionally from covert to overt and legally from those needing judicial warrants to being unrestricted by the law, it follows that information professionals must be as worried with the municipal liberties issues presented as with the expertise and techniques utilized. Consider the spectrum of surveillance activities: from the ostensibly benign, such as the overt examining of public events, to the most intrusive, such as the covert electrical devices acquisition of private conversations. Or consider the balance of equities: from the individual's right to privacy to the needs of the state to have the necessary information for the public defense. Indeed the rights of the persons are convoluted and far reaching, encompassing ...