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The United States’ Terrorism Surveillance Program represents just one of many expansions in surveillance since 9/11, as legal controls previously introduced to protect citizens’ privacy and to prevent the misuse of surveillance powers have been relaxed. What makes the situation qualitatively different now is not just the lowering of the bar: digitization and the rapid advancement of technology mean that the type and volume of information currently available eclipse that of previous generations. The issue is not confined to the United States. Despite the incorporation of the European Convention of Human Rights into British law, the United Kingdom also appears to be losing privacy in its battle against terrorism.

Part I of this article looks at the American institution of legal controls on the executive branch and their subsequent erosion post-9/11. It explores three changes incorporated in the USA PATRIOT Act: alterations to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act; the introduction of Delayed Notice Search Warrants; and the expansion of National Security Letters. Outside of this legislation, the weakening of the Attorney General guidelines increased the FBI's ability to collect information. The article highlights the Department of Defense's ("DOD") movement into the domestic surveillance realm. It discusses a number of operations both inside and outside the DOD, such as TALON, Echelon, Carnivore, Magic Lantern, TIPS, and the use of watch lists. Part I concludes with a discussion of the data mining efforts underway. The article argues that Total Information Awareness, ADVISE, and other projects catapult surveillance into another realm. Moreover, while any one program, such as the NSA initiative, may be considered on narrow grounds, the sheer breadth of current powers raises important concerns.

Part II notes that, until recently, no laws governed police and intelligence service information-gathering authorities in the UK. Extraordinary stop and search powers for terrorist-related offences, and warrants for police interference with property provided exceptions. But physical searches of property conducted by the intelligence services, the interception of communications by law enforcement and intelligence agencies, the use of covert surveillance or "electronic bugs," and the running of covert human intelligence sources operated under the legislative and judicial radars. Beginning in the mid-1980s, the European Court began to raise objections to the lack of safeguards and statutory framework. But each time the Court handed down a significant finding against the United Kingdom, the state responded not just by, at least on the surface, meeting the demands of the European Convention of Human Rights, but, it appears, by expanding executive surveillance authorities. Moreover, the warrant system introduced retained control within the executive branch. Not subject to judicial review, the standard applied is reasonable suspicion—considerably less robust than probable cause. Like the United States, Britain draws on new technologies; the country leads the world in its use of public surveillance systems.

Having laid out legal developments on both sides of the Atlantic, Part III moves to policy concerns: it begins by briefly exploring the substantive, political, legal, social, and economic risks posed by such measures. It then considers six approaches that would help to mitigate the risks. First is the possibility of creating a property right in personal information. The second centers on the regulation of access, transfer, use, and retention of data. Such efforts would satisfy demands for accountability and transparency in both the public and private sector. A third possibility centers on scaling back the existing powers of the state. Fourth, both countries may contemplate placing limits on what constitutes national security. Fifth, alternative safeguards and oversight structures deserve attention—such as reporting requirements, random audits, the creation of ombudspersons, the insertion of the judiciary, and (in the UK) allowing intercepted communications to be used as evidence. Sixth, preventing countries from introducing ever greater powers of surveillance under the claim that they are only temporary in nature would force legislatures to consider the long-term impact of provisions beyond the immediate terrorist threat.


© 2006 by Northwestern University School of Law

Publication Citation

96 J. of Crim. L. & Criminology 1059-1208 (2006)