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The past decade has seen a rapid improvement in both communications technologies and the government’s ability to invade the privacy of average Americans. Many of these surveillance programs, launched in the name of national security and protection against terrorism, have given government agencies broad, unregulated access to the personal communication of millions.

The Issue

In addition to the violations of personal privacy, these surveillance programs have extracted a great cost from the the U.S. economy. The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), a research institute promoting public policies that advance technological innovation and productivity, estimates international concern and mistrust of U.S. tech companies could cost the industry between $21.5 billion and $35 billion through 2016.

The lack of specific Fourth Amendment protection is partly responsible for the massive scope of the government’s use of the Internet to violate citizen’s privacy. Legislators should avoid a rush to overlook constitutionally protected civil liberties in an attempt to police domestic terrorism. Any future surveillance programs should be subject to strict oversight from lawmakers and an independent judiciary.

These safeguards should recognize the following:

  • the right of Internet companies to be notified when their infrastructure is being used for surveillance;
  • the right of Internet companies to disclose instances when they have been asked to assist with surveillance and turn over information;
  • the necessity of due process;
  • that domestic civilian surveillance is the purview of conventional courts, not the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act or secret military courts; and
  • that requests for data should be held to the same standard as other search warrants: The requester must identify the suspect, the probable cause, the data to be searched and what specific information is being sought.

Our Stance

In a free society, individuals are not automatically assumed to be suspects requiring or justifying constant surveillance. Citizens have the right to go about their business without answering to the state for every thought, act, purchase, or social media comment.

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