Posted by Guest on July 05, 2017 in Blog

By Waleed Alkoor

What do New York City, the most populated city in the U.S., and Dearborn, a small Michigan city with a sizable Arab population, have in common? They are the two most surveilled cities by the FBI. To the Arab American and American Muslim communities, surveillance in the post 9/11-era has long been a particular concern. 

To give us more background on the issue and to discuss the issues of criminal justice, civil liberties, and counterterrorism, we were joined by Adam Bates, policy analyst at the Cato Institute, for our second brown bag of the summer. Mr. Bates also gave the interns solid suggestions and advice coming from a man who had been through it all himself. He explained the importance of networking in DC and building a professional portfolio. Above all, Bates stressed on the importance of standing out and improving networking skills, attributes he even placed above merit. What many of us found to be most interesting, however, was the wealth of knowledge he possessed on the issue of surveillance and its impact on our civil liberties.

In the age of new media where it seems as though each day we are informed of a new terror attack sprouting somewhere around the world, it is not unreasonable that many honest Americans would be in favor of tighter surveillance in return for guaranteed security. The problem is most Americans, including myself, do not often fully comprehend the terrifying extent to which the government is able to monitor us. Bates enlightened us on many of the unknown realities of the intelligence community. Through technology that was initially invented for the War on Drugs and loopholes that use telecom companies as third-party informers, the size of the surveillance apparatus that is accessible to the government is unprecedented. This isn’t some interesting concept invented by absurd conspiracy theorists, nor is it a theoretical issue that should be heeded as a future warning. The most astonishing part to me was that it is actually happening; right here, right now. 

I’ve always been skeptical of the “the-man-is-always-watching-us” mentality, however hearing the scope to which our everyday movements and communications could be recorded absolutely shocked me. How could I continue to deny the degree of the government’s over watch when I was directly presented with ample evidence of Stingrays, GPS tracking and other current monitoring approaches and technologies? That’s when I realized that the reason I, along with many Americans, am so doubtful isn’t because I don’t believe it, it is because I don’t want to believe it. Why would any American want to accept that their right to privacy is quietly being stripped from underneath their noses? After all, ignorance is bliss. 

So, when some campaign for increased surveillance, do they understand what they are actually calling for? Are they cognizant that their cell phone and personal information is already available to Uncle Sam? The dangerous part is really what could the next step possibly be? What becomes of the land of the brave and the home of the free if people must be wary of what they utter in the sanctity of their own homes?

Waleed Alkoor is an AAI external intern at Brookings.