Stating the Constitution is not a suicide pact and advocating the limitation of certain rights to counter threats during a crisis is a fairly reasonable approach. Rights guaranteed by the Constitution comprise a public good that benefits those who partake in it. However, constitutional rights can only endure until there is a government to enforce them because should such a government perish, the Constitution would become a dead letter as well. It means that the existence of a sovereign nation and its government capable of enacting the Constitution is a more fundamentally important public good than the rights themselves. Omand et al. note that “the only justification for one public good to be hazarded is the provision of another,” which is exactly the case in protecting the existence of the nations from a terrorist threat (87). A good example of a right that can be curtailed to a certain extent to combat terrorism is privacy in social media. Due to its pervasiveness and the ability to reach people quickly make social media a perfect tool for terrorist coordination and, should they not be monitored, it would benefit the terrorists the most.
The difference between laws and ethics is fairly evident and very straightforward. While laws define what is permissible in a given community under than threat of legal punishment, ethics define what is morally permissible according to an internalized personal code of conduct. Both apply to intelligence, although with considerable omissions and exceptions stemming from its nature. International law says very little about intelligence except for the explicit prohibition of torture as the means of extracting information (Herman 433). In terms of national law, gathering intelligence for foreign actors is obviously a crime, which is to be expected given that the nature of intelligence is benefiting one actor at the expense of another. In ethical terms, intelligence is generally seen as permissible as long as it adheres to certain norms. Everybody understands that intelligence gathering is a paramount part of national security, and, as long as human societies exist, they will continue spying on each other (Herman 433). However, certain means of intelligence gathering, such as the aforementioned torture, are condemned from the ethical perspective as well as from the legal standpoint.
The importance of the USA Patriot Act lies in the fact that it expanded the opportunities available for law enforcement with the purpose of fighting terrorism. One crucial component of the Patriot Act is the expansion of surveillance practices. Title II made it easier to conduct electronic and telephone surveillance and removed the obligation to prove that an individual under surveillance was an agent of the foreign power (“Patriot Act” 286-287). Apart from that, it also facilitated the cooperation between different law enforcement agencies, especially in cases when domestic and international security considerations overlapped. Title VIII in its entirety covers the increasingly severe punishment for terrorist activity and also introduces new penalties for the support of terrorism (“Patriot Act” 374-286). Overall, the purpose of the Patriot Act was to enhance the capabilities of American law enforcement and foster better cooperation between the intelligence community, law enforcement, and other agencies. Its historical significance lies in the fact that, since the time of its signing into law and until the present day, it continues to outline the country’s approach to countering terrorism.
Herman, Michael. “Ethics and intelligence after September 2001.” Secret Intelligence: A Reader, edited by Christopher Andrew et al., 2nd ed., Routledge, 2020, pp. 432-444.
Omand, David, et al. “Introducing Social Media Intelligence (SOCMINT).” Secret Intelligence: A Reader, edited by Christopher Andrew et al., 2nd ed., Routledge, 2020, pp. 77-94.
“Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism (USA PATRIOT) Act of 2001.” Library of Congress, Web.