Questioning Civil Liberties


Ciuk (2015) noted in his research that before the attacks of 9/11, the most important value to Americans was liberty. Private security companies handled the movement of citizens around the world before 9/11 and policies varied by these companies. People were rarely detained or questioned at airports. (Finkelstein et al., 2017; Kleiner, 2010). Domestic flight security did not routinely involve law enforcement officers traveling on board (Kleiner, 2010). The actions of September 11th, 2001 caused a cascade of actions from President Bush (Finkelstein et al., 2017; Kleiner, 2010). Realizations that security at airports varied from company to company caused an immediate change nationwide at airports (Finkelstein et al., 2017; Kleiner, 2010).

The government implemented several extensive security measures after 9/11 such as using airport screening agents under one federal guideline to provide enhanced continuity and security for airline passengers (Kleiner, 2010). Another expeditious measure involved passing the USA PATRIOT Act (Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act) which established the Department of Homeland Defense (Finkelstein et al., 2017; Garcia & Geva, 2016). The act allowed agencies of the government and law enforcement latitude to gather intelligence and detain or deport those suspected of terrorist activities (Finkelstein et al., 2017; Garcia & Geva, 2016).


Immediately after 9/11, restrictions of civil liberties unequally targeted Muslims and those who appeared to be Muslim (Aizpurua et al., 2017). Targeting Muslims within America began diminishing over time between attacks but has been brought back to the forefront with ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) attacks on San Bernardino, Paris, and Belgium (Aizpurua et al., 2017). Racial, ethnic, or religious minorities are often targeted through security policies such as profiling (Aizpurua et al., 2017). Kleiner (2010) detailed an incident occurring January 1st, 2009 where nine persons of South Asian descent including three young boys heading to Florida for vacation. Eight of the passengers were American born citizens.

Two teenage girls on the flight overheard Atif Irfan and his wife talking about having the “”safest seats”” on the plane, and the teenagers notified the air marshal. The air marshal decided that all passengers should exit the plane. FBI detained Mr. Irfan and his family away from all remaining passengers (Kleiner, 2010). Atif Irfan and his family complied with the FBI while authorities re-checked the plane, remaining passengers, and all baggage. The plane and remaining passengers departed for Florida. After hours of questioning and investigating, the FBI and TSA found nothing. The FBI concluded the family posed no threat and could travel. The airline offered a refund but refused to reschedule their flight. Irfan later told CNN that he wanted an apology for their treatment as second-class citizens (Kleiner, 2010).

Aizpurua and her colleagues showed through their research that there is an increased fear of Muslims because of 9/11 attacks creating American support for security policies that criminalize Muslims (Aizpurua et al., 2017). Recently, after the San Bernardino mass shooting in December of 2015, President Trump sparked controversy when he suggested a ban on all Muslims entering the United States and enhanced fear of Muslims within America (Diamond, 2015). “The media has overwhelmingly in?uential effects on public perceptions and fear about almost any topic or group of individuals, meaning terrorism and Muslims are no exception (Aizpurua et al., 2017).” Relatedly, Other research showed that Americans who perceive an enhanced threat or have knowledge of recent terrorist activity tend to support stricter legislation even when inequities are inevitable (Finkelstein et al.; Garcia & Geva, 2016).

Relevant legislation

Kleiner (2010) noted that the USA PATRIOT Act enacted in October of 2001 by President George W. Bush deteriorates civil liberties under the guise of national security. The law was extended again in 2005 by President Bush, and in 2011, President Obama added changes through the National Defense Authorization Act of 2011 (Finkelstein et al., 2017). While Americans remain divided over the balance between security and civil liberties, those making policies must balance increasing security without encroaching civil liberties that may impose or burden the public (Finkelstein et al., 2017).

The problem with racial profiling or ethnocentrism is that anybody can be a terrorist, and examples include John Walker Lindh (American Taliban) and Richard Reid (shoe bomber) (Kleiner, 2010). These examples also proved that Al Qaeda could recruit people from diverse backgrounds to commit acts of terrorism (Kleiner, 2010). Also, programs such as NSEERS (National Security Entry Exit Registration System enacted in 2002) and later the US-VISIT (United States Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology enacted in 2004) focused on Arab and Muslim males and may not have identified either as a potential target (Kleiner, 2010).

According to Seghetti & Vina (2004), The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) through the USA PATRIOT Act and the Border Security Act required three things for the US-VISIT program; an enhanced automated data system to record entries and exits, requiring the use of biometric identifiers for all visas, and that the system works with other law enforcement and national security databases. The program requires the collection of a biometric identifier (such as a fingerprint or iris scan) from foreign visitors and uses the technology to track their movements through all points of entry (Seghetti & Vina, 2004). In 2013, the Office of Biometric Identity Management (OBIM) replaced the US-VISIT program (DHS, 2018). The core principles include enhancing security for citizens and visitors and protecting the privacy of visitors (DHS, 2018). The OBIM Act was ratified in 2018 and requires privacy impact assessment reporting to the public (DHS, 2018). The data is collected and stored through the Automated Biometric Identification System (IDENT) and used for both criminal and civil applications (DHS, 2018). Privacy impact assessment reports relate to the parameters of collection and identify how that information assists national security (DHS, 2018).

Supporting Evidence

Many studies have shown that those Americans with liberal views tend to question government intentions in homeland security policies (Finkelstein et al., 2017; Garcia & Geva 2016). A recent study using the discrete choice experiment (DCE) survey with over 650 participants found that political affiliations had profound effects on whether public support for policies intended to deter terrorism was accepted (Finkelstein et al., 2017). The DCE is an accepted method of evaluating a respondents’ willingness to forego some liberties for policies that reduce the opportunity for a 9/11 style terrorist attack (Finkelstein et al., 2017). The study showed that those who labeled themselves as conservative or moderate showed support for policies to deter terrorism regardless of the effects on civil liberties and estimated that between 10,000 and 45,000 mean deaths could occur from terrorists’ actions (Finkelstein et al., 2017). Respondents over the age of 50 also showed support for aggressive policies to thwart terrorism and a belief that the government would not generally abuse those policies against Americans (Finkelstein et al., 2017).

Kleinert (2010) detailed an elaborate plan for Transportation Security Agents (TSA) to use a “race-blind” security system to alleviate concerns of perceived racial profiling and to ensure that those recruited by Al Qaeda would be exposed regardless of their race. This plan would incorporate measures that would teach TSA personnel enhanced physical security screening programs that detail actions over appearance when finding threats and improved bagging screening technology. The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) is in the process of developing technology that will identify liquid substances chemical markers as these items proceed through checkpoints. They are also developing better detection technologies and finding solutions to improve screening methods (Kleiner, 2010).


The OBIM consults with civil liberties groups to develop parameters for an appropriate collection of data, and this commitment should help to reduce inherent problems associated with racial profiling (DHS, 2018). Garcia and Geva (2016) noted that there is a plan to develop unique identification for frequent travelers with expedited check-ins at airports, but noted that the prevalence of identity theft could provide easy access for those with ill-intent. The solution seems embedded in implementing enhanced training techniques of TSA personnel and using innovative technology can effectively take out the guesswork for many instances of possible violations which will help to reduce racial profiling incidents and allow the opportunity for airport screeners to find those with bad intentions without factors of prejudice (Finkelstein et al., 2017; Kleiner; 2010).

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Questioning Civil Liberties. (2020, Apr 26). Retrieved from

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