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7 Ways Security And Surveillance Have Changed Since September 11, 2001

Many of us remember exactly what we were doing on the morning of September 11th, 2001 when the United States fell under terrorist attack, I know I could never forget. Twelve years later, it is still horrific to think about that day and the days that followed. Before 9/11, we were a country living in a false sense of security; a sense of security that “real” terrorism only happened in other countries. After 9/11, we realized that we are just a susceptible to terrorism as any other place in the world. Security and surveillance became a top priority and our national security received a makeover to ensure that we are never again faced with a tragedy such as this. Here are seven ways securing our safety has changed since 9/11.

1. The USA PATRIOT Act

Let’s start with what actually changed surveillance in the U.S. in the first place. President George W. Bush signed the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001 into law on Oct. 26, 2001. The intent of this act was to ease the American people’s fears after 9/11 by adding an extra layer of national security against terrorism. It was set to expire at “sunset” on Dec. 31, 2005, with the Senate fighting to change the initial legislation due to civil liberties issues, and the House fighting to keep the original language.

Bush signed a “revised” Act into law on March 9 and 10, 2006, which mirrored the original Act. President Barack Obama extended three of the Act’s provisions for an additional four years on May 26, 2011. The Act and its extensions have been a constant source of controversy; many people strongly support additional protection from terrorists; others feel equally as strongly that the Act infringes too closely upon civil liberties. If you look at some of the ways the USA PATRIOT Act has changed surveillance in the U.S., you can decide for yourself if you’re for or against it.

2. Telephone Wire Tapping

You’ve probably heard in the news that federal government agencies can now listen to your telephone conversations at any time and record what you’re saying. If they suspect you’re a terrorist, or you’re talking to a terrorist, they can tap your phone, including your cell phone. They can also contact your phone company and request copies of your phone records. The purpose of this tapping is to increase the federal government’s ability to locate terror cells, and people aiding and abetting them, within and outside of the U.S.

3. Email Tracking

Alongside phone tapping, the PATRIOT Act allows the government to track and review your emails at any time. The government also pays attention to whom you are emailing. Like phone tapping, the purpose of this added government surveillance is to track down terrorists and those supporting them. It is believed that having access to email exchanges might aid government agencies in identifying potential terrorist threats on and off U.S. soil.

4. Internet Activity Surveillance

The government is also allowed to track your online activity should they suspect you are a terrorist. This added PATRIOT Act surveillance has also been in the headlines quite a bit. The Internet’s major search engine providers, including Google and Microsoft, have turned over user’s records to the feds, and this surveillance is not just limited to your search engine activity. Your social networking activity may also be watched, and platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, and Skype have turned user info over to the government as well.

5. Banking and Credit History Access

Should you be financing a terrorist cell, the government will find out about it via your banking history… at least this is the rationale behind the ability to access your banking records, which the federal government now has. The 9/11 commission report revealed that the terrorists behind September 11th were trained here in the United States, with funding being funneled into the U.S. from terrorist cells abroad. The PATRIOT Act aids government agencies in identifying potential threats via bank records.

The government also has access to your credit history for the same reasons, alongside easier identification of terrorists. Your credit history reveals much more about your identity than just how you spend your money. It also keeps track of where you’ve lived and if you’ve changed your name at any time. Accessing your credit history gives federal agencies an additional layer of information they might not otherwise have without the PATRIOT Act provisions allowing it.

6. Security Cameras and Surveillance

Since 9/11, many major cities, including New York City, have beefed up their security and surveillance. Security cameras are perched throughout the streets of major cities in the U.S. now, keeping a watchful eye on potential terrorists and their daily activities. It is relayed to citizens by the federal and local governments that these cameras make identifying suspected terrorists a far easier task, and this is why so many places have them now.

7. Airport Security Increases

It might be that you weren’t 100% aware of the first six ways America’s surveillance and security have changed, but if you’ve flown anywhere since 9/11, you know it’s much harder to get into and out of the airport. You may go through several security checks to board your flight. These checks include ID/ticket name verification, shoe and increased clothing inspection, increased baggage and electronic equipment screening, no liquids above 3.4 ounces passed security checkpoints, body scans and increased pat-downs, and no visitors passed airline gates.

So, does this enhanced security and surveillance really work? Has our national security thwarted new terrorist threats since 9/11? The government says yes; though the people may say no. The facts do not appear to support the added government surveillance the PATRIOT Act allows. According to Business Insider, from 2003 to the 2005, the FBI requested various records of 143,074 people. Of the 143,074 people under additional surveillance, the FBI found zero terrorists or terrorist-related activity. In 2010, the FBI found less than 1% terror-related activity in the people it surveyed, and this is just the tip of the controversial iceberg.

It appears that the PATRIOT Act isn’t really “phishing” out terrorists, but the FBI has arrested a bunch of people for other infractions, including drug-related activities, immigration issues, money laundering, and fraud, which isn’t really what the PATRIOT Act was designed to do. So, the debate remains are the changes in how America is monitored since 9/11 good or bad. That’s a personal call. All I know is that we can never allow something like 9/11 to happen again, and if additional security prevents that, then perhaps it’s the right thing to do.


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