Term paper: Government surveillance and whistleblowers

The aftermath of the September 11, 2001, attack on the World Trade Center saw an escalation of government surveillance on the American people. But intrusion into personal privacy has a long history in the U.S. Now PBS’ Independent Lens reveals how 44 years ago a group of citizens exposed the FBI’s illegal surveillance program in the documentary, 1971.

How do you feel about the current government surveillance? (Credit: Thomson Reuters)

How do you feel about the current government surveillance? (Credit: Thomson Reuters)

If you are looking for research paper topics about the legal system, constitutional rights and the criminal justice system, then check out the film on your local station or online by searching for PBS documentaries.

Research constitutional rights

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On the subject of privacy and government surveillance, check out the book, Privacy at Risk: The New Government Surveillance and the Fourth Amendment by Christopher Slobogin.

In his book, Slobogin explained how pervasive government surveillance is. By using closed circuit television, global positioning systems and other technologies, the government has access to your personal records and daily activities. What is frightening is that these acts of surveillance are subject to very little regulation.

“In the post-9/11 era, the danger rationale for reducing the government’s burden is particularly attractive. What is not clear, however, is why concern about danger should lead to an automatic relaxation of the government’s justification without reference to the degree of invasion associated with the government action,” Slobogin said.

Protecting privacy rights

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is an organization that works to defend the constitutional rights of every U.S. citizen. Today the ACLU is at the forefront of protecting citizens from excessive government intrusion into their private lives. The current focus is on defeating the extension of Section 215 of the Patriot Act, which is due to expire on June 1, 2015.

The ACLU team explained, “215 Reasons Why Section 215 Needs to Go Away,” in a May 12, 2015, post for the blog at ACLU.org.

The reasons are presented in a playful and fictionalized account of the aftermath of a relationship breakup.

After your breakup, here’s what the NSA knows about you:

  • The number of times you drunk-dialed your ex and the fact that she didn’t pick up
  • The fact that she was on the phone with your best buddy at the time
  • The NSA can follow the trail of your trips to the liquor store for more liquid consolation
  • And the hotel charges on your best buddy’s credit card (was he there with your ex?)

In other words, even though the NSA says that all they collect is information on who you called, when and for how long, a lot can be construed from that information alone.

Scrap government surveillance

A vote is set this week on the USA Freedom Act, a bill that would end the NSA’s bulk collection of data and limit the agency to specific queries of phone company data.

Eli Lake described what may happen when “Congress Falls Out of Love With the Surveillance State,” in a May 20, 2015, article for BloombergView.com.

“To be sure, the new bill still allows the FBI and NSA to search the numbers dialed and times and dates of phone calls to find the confederates of terrorists in the United States. But no longer would the NSA be allowed to store those records. Eventually, President Obama made it known that he favors the changes as well,” Lake reported.

PBS Independent Lens: 1971

The documentary film, 1971 tells the story of how on March 8, 1971, a small group of citizens took matters into their own hands and broke into a Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) office in Media, Pennsylvania. They gathered as many documents as they could and sent them to the Washington Post newspaper where they were published.

The documents revealed widespread FBI abuse of its powers in conducting illegal surveillance and intimidation on law-abiding citizens. The exposé lead to the first congressional investigation of U.S. intelligence agencies.

The film tells the story of this band of whistleblowers and after years in obscurity, reveals their identities. You can watch the film online at PBS.org.

You can research thousands of topics including criminal justice issues such as privacy on Questia.

Are you concerned about government surveillance in your life? Tell us your concerns in the comments.

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