The Fear of Counterterrorism: Surveillance and Civil Liberties Since 9/11







In the post-9/11 era, claims can repeatedly be heard that counter terrorism and related surveillance practices involve illegitimate invasions of privacy, free speech, and other violations of civil liberties. This puzzling theme of a fear of surveillance is echoed in both the relevant scholarly literature and civil liberties activism. We analyze the contemporary discourse on surveillance and civil liberties in confrontation with reports on empirical cases of claims of abuse that are made against surveillance and intelligence activities. We argue that these civil liberties claims are not only a function of the incidence of actual violations, but are also a reflection of a civil liberties culture and an accompanying fear of counter terrorism and surveillance. Allegations of civil liberties violations in the post-9/11 era, therefore, do not have a wholly justified basis in the reality of surveillance practices, but should instead also be viewed as a manifestation of certain cultural sensitivities related to privacy rights and personal liberties.

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