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20 Years Later, 9/11 Still Shaping the American Legal Landscape  

Last week marked 20 years since the unconscionable terrorist attacks in New York City, Washington D.C. and Pennsylvania completely reshaped every facet of American life. The attacks and their fallout impacted the way Americans interact with one another and their government and they sparked myriad law enforcement and intelligence agencies to change the way they operate both inside and outside the U.S.

twin towers 155578 640There has been no shortage of controversy surrounding the response to the attacks—everything from the laws drafted in their wake to the immense resources expended to prevent future attacks has come under intense scrutiny—and even now it remains unclear exactly what type of world we can expect going forward as U.S. engagement in the Middle East has dramatically shifted.

According to the Congressional Research Service, Congress has appropriated approximately $2 trillion in discretionary funding to combat terrorism since 9/11. The allocations in support of the Overseas Contingency Operations/Global War on Terrorism represent 9.5% of all discretionary spending through 2019, notes the service.

From Twitter

Nicole Malliotakis @NMalliotakis

"As we approach the 20th Anniversary of 9/11, one thing is for sure: we must be proactive & vigilant. That means counterterrorism abroad, securing our borders here & supporting (not defunding) our law enforcement across America."

As the anniversary was approaching, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) took the opportunity to call on Congress to reconsider some of the laws that have been crafted in order to combat and prevent future terrorism. Mass surveillance, for example, is one such area the ACLU has taken a particular interest in.

“There has been bipartisan recognition that the post-9/11 surveillance regime undermines privacy rights, but Congress and the executive branch have not gone nearly far enough to establish strong safeguards against executive overreach and abuse,” according to the advocacy group. “Executive branch agencies still have entirely too much power and discretion when conducting surveillance for intelligence purposes. Congress must put an end to mass spying — by ensuring that surveillance is targeted, that there is robust judicial oversight, and that people whose lives are invaded by government surveillance can challenge that spying in court.”

From Twitter

Edward Snowden @Snowden Sep 4

“'They essentially claimed wartime authority to engage in domestic surveillance that is criminal under statutory law,' said Ben Wizner."

Specifically, the ACLU pointed to the Patriot Act, one of the most notable pieces of legislation to come in the aftermath of the attacks, as a law in particular need of reform. It argues that act became an excuse to engage in wholesale surveillance programs that violate the Constitution, and that precedent is even more dangerous now as technology has vastly improved since the law was passed.

In fact, according to a report from the ACLU, the Patriot Act is not only inappropriate from a legal standpoint, but also has largely failed to protect Americans from terrorism. “Congress now has the opportunity to enact essential reforms, by looking to the lessons of the last two decades to impose restraints that will protect us in the face of even more powerful and invasive technologies going forward,” reads information from the ACLU.

The group also pointed to former government contractor and intelligence consultant Edward Snowden’s “revelations” about the scope of U.S. surveillance as evidence the line between security and personal privacy invasion has been unduly infringed.

Specifically, Snowden said the National Security Agency (NSA) has launched two programs, PRISM and Upstream, which tied the security agency to companies like Facebook, Google and AT&T in order to help “conduct warrantless surveillance of Americans’ international communications on a massive scale.”

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