Describe ethical and legal issues in the fight against terrorism.

Terrorism presents a serious ethical and legal challenge in the US because in order to fight it law enforcement must use invasive tactics such as broader surveillance powers. Prior to 9/11 Americans did not really look at concepts such as freedom and security as a balancing act.  I think this is a large change and we been forced to look at rights as a more flexible concept during national security issues and events such as 9/11. These are unusual events that often require a more militant approach. It has happened in the past, where the President has declared martial law. Lincoln did it during the Civil War and when the war ended martial was revoked. I think examples such as this show how the government does not desire to take away all rights but does want to have control when it is necessary.


I think most Americans realize that the government cannot protect its citizens from domestic and international terrorism while preserving individual civil liberties entirely. This is huge ethical and legal quandary.  The loss of civil liberties may be a necessary inconvenience in order to stop terrorism.  If American’s desire to be safe, then they need to be willing to submit to loss of freedom at least to some degree. The problem that the US is facing is that fundamentalist terrorists are not the same as fighting an obvious enemy such as in a war. The US is fighting groups who see nothing wrong with strapping a bomb to themselves and running into a crowded building.  I am not sure how you can profile an enemy such as this without resorting to some invasive tactics (Matt A. Mayer, 2011). Even technology will not solve this issue in the immediate future because the technology is not there to find people or weapons (Nova, 2013). The Boston Bombing shows how difficult it can be to find suspects or to identify them prior to the act.



Matt A. Mayer, J. J. (2011, August 23). Homeland Security 4.0: Overcoming Centralization, Complacency, and Politics. Retrieved from The Heritage Foundation:

Nova. (2013, May 29). Manhunt—Boston Bombers. Retrieved from Nova:



I think part of the issue is the fact that the US Constitution is a flexible document that is open to interpretation. This is a good thing and a bad thing. It is good because it definitively protects freedom and privacy but it is a bad thing because it does not always describe in detail the level of protection.  In many ways the constitution is so general in nature that the argument for privacy becomes a matter of intense scrutiny and interpretation.  As well, the arguments become confounded by the modern world and the technology of today.  In many instances the wiretap laws of today are extremely outdated even though these laws are not that old.   These laws were designed for telephones not for text messaging, cell phone, and email.  The main interpretation, for communication privacy, comes from the Wire Tap Act of 1968 (No. 03-1383., 2004). In so far as laws are concerned, 1968 is not that old for a law, and definitely has not reached the status of a Blue Law (antiquated law seldom followed or enforced).

Much of the communication that takes place today is done via the internet.  This gap between technology and updated laws presents a problem where judges are forced to interpret old laws or set precedent for these new technologies.  The real injustice for many would reside in the interpretation of laws by judges when allowing evidence obtained by police using wire taps and spyware software. However, these interpretations may be necessary in order to fight terrorism.