Custom «Impact of the NSA Surveillance on the Fourth Amendment» Sample Essay

Custom «Impact of the NSA Surveillance on the Fourth Amendment» Sample Essay

The National Security Agency (NSA) checks through the vast amounts of email and text communications of Americans. In addition, the NSA has acquired the communication of foreigners without a warrant once they have a target. By doing this, the agency has swept an even wider range of citizens’ communication than people previously believed. Consequently, the impact of the NSA surveillance has become deep and far-reaching, thereby undermining the basic principles of privacy. In a country like America, privacy is the most important attribute in a person’s life. Naturally, one will never feel comfortable after knowing that all his or her information is being closely watched by a third party. The security concerns have prompted for the wide spread of discussions in the social media. As the amendment comes in, some group of people might think that a specific individual has come up with the move to satisfy his or her personal interests. This paper will discuss the impact of the NSA surveillance on the Fourth Amendment and arguments for and against the NSA surveillance.

The NSA Surveillance

In the context of this paper, surveillance is the close observation of the activities of an individual for the intelligence and counterintelligence purposes. The NSA surveillance program collects different types of information from citizens. Some secret information collection programs of the NSA include obtaining a record of calls made in the United States, emails, and Facebook posts, raw internet traffic, and the audio content of some phone calls (Turner, 2014). When the NSA obtains this information, it records as much of it as it can, but this is subject to technical limitations and legal constraints. If the NSA adheres to the restrictions set out in court orders, then all of this activity is legal.

The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court is the body in charge of deciding what is legal for the NSA to do. However, the level of domestic surveillance of the NSA has not always been legal. In fact, on more than one occasion, the program has violated legal standards. Gradually, through a series of court decisions and legislative changes over the decade after September 11, 2001, the NSA had the authority to collect domestic information on a large scale (Chesterman, 2011). The domestic information that the agency collects can be kept for up to five years. However, under special circumstances, the NSA can keep the information indefinitely.

Benefits of the NSA Surveillance

The domestic surveillance by the NSA has various benefits to the citizens of the United States. First, the agency collects data and tries to make sense of it by using data analytic techniques. The intelligence collected by the NSA collects enables the officials to learn potential threats to the United States. The NSA monitors external threat to the United States and does not turn its attention to citizens without there being a probable cause. Statistics supports that the NSA surveillance programs foil terror plots (Nunn, 2005). Thus, the NSA has made some statistics public, showing that the domestic surveillance programs have been crucial in identifying the terrorist plots and stopping them from turning into terrorist attacks (Nunn, 2005). The increase in the potential terrorist attacks in the United States has created the will to implement such programs as the NSA surveillance. These programs, in turn, assist in preventing terrorist attacks by finding potential threats and using the data collected by these programs (Turner, 2014).

Secondly, apart from the NSA surveillance programs functioning as counterterrorism measures, they also allow the NSA to put a stop to various international espionage plots (Chesterman, 2011). One of the examples of how surveillance programs have unearthed international plots is the case of the North Korean ship. This ship was stopped in Panama in August 2013. It turned out that the vessel had smuggled illegal arms from Cuba. Cases of espionage, where foreign operatives attempt to steal the U.S secrets and smuggle dangerous materials within U.S borders, are very dangerous. Espionage exposes American citizens to various risks because the countries with harmful intentions might have the chance to steal critical information about national security and sell it to the interested parties. Consequently, the NSA comes in hand by tracking such individuals and neutralizing them while they are still under the jurisdiction of the country. The purpose of NSA should not be restricted to only international plots as individuals may plan and orchestrate terrorist attacks within the United States (Turner, 201).

Drawbacks of the NSA Surveillance

Although the surveillance by the NSA has benefits to American citizens, it also has its drawbacks. First, such programs threaten the privacy of Americans. Even though the officials characterize the metadata they collect as mere phone numbers, the usage of sophisticated computer programs may reveal volumes of sensitive information from the metadata about people’s activities, beliefs, and relationships among other things (Turner, 2014). In essence, if the surveillance programs told the officials nothing, then they would not have bothered collecting them. Therefore, one can conclude that if the programs are to be useful in finding information, then they must be more intrusive. Secondly, although America remains a free country, various law enforcement agencies might single out some groups of people for scrutiny. For instance, Muslim Americans, who are singled out for scrutiny sometimes, have reported harassment by officials as well as the freezing of religious and political activities. Since the incidence of 9/11, the laws and institutions introduced to ensure the freedom of Americans have become weak to some extent (Chesterman, 2011). It is especially true for the limitations on surveillance, which carries tremendous potential for abuse.

It is the job of the government to ensure that they eliminate the drawbacks of the NSA surveillance. They are the people who have the ability to investigate the level of intrusion to people’s privacy and formulate the new systems of oversight, transparency, and accountability. The NSA must eavesdrop on enemies, but it should do so in a way that does not tamper with the constitutional rights of Americans by jeopardizing their security or privacy. One way to achieve this is by the NSA having a cultural change and new leadership committed to changing its culture. When this is the case, the NSA would not be above the law, but it would ensure that the freedom of American citizens is intact (Smith, 2003).

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Impacts of the NSA Surveillance on the Fourth Amendment

The Fourth Amendment wants the American citizen to be free from unwarranted searches and seizures (Amar, 1996). However, the huge database of the NSA is in contradiction with the Fourth Amendment. Such a contradiction has become possible because there has been a lack of proper evidence that the data collection programs are the best means of obtaining crucial information in the cases involving the imminent threat of terrorism. Due to this, individuals have the ability to show that their privacy interest outweighs the interest of the government in collecting and analyzing their information. Therefore, the program used to collect information by the NSA may be considered an unreasonable search under the Fourth Amendment (Chesterman, 2011).

At times, the United States government admits violating the Fourth Amendment’s ban on unreasonable searches and seizures. For example, once, the FISA Court found out that the government overstepped the length of time needed to retain its surveillance data (Smith, 2003). The Fourth Amendment appears too stiff and rigid, which restricts smooth government operations. The amendment seems to protect the suspects and to give them time and opportunity to do what they want to do. If the policemen are prohibited from obtaining the information they need within their jurisdiction, there would be no much need in the policing and criminal investigation moves because all the doors that might lead to the credible evidence are closed. There might be the need to get into the room of a suspected drug dealer to uncover all the illegal drugs hidden there (Chesterman, 2011). In such a case, the Fourth Amendment on the NSA surveillance has to be violated to ease the operations in the tight condition. Sometimes, the courts have to side with the NSA officials if the state’s interests are paramount. 

The Importance of the NSA Surveillance

There are some beneficial aspects related to the impact of the NSA surveillance on American society. The move must be in a bid to create stratified society. All citizens will deeply understand that there is the government or some special agencies that act as an oversight of the operations of the citizens and non-citizens. In some countries, the government does not have adequate control over the territory (Bardhan, 2002). Among such countries are those where drug lords have amassed significant political and financial influence. Furthermore, there are politically destabilized countries like Somalia that face serious turmoil because of the terrorr groups like the Al Shabab militant groups.

If the government takes a bold step of coming up with the National Security Agency, the responsible individuals will always ensure that all the activities in the country are put in check. A country like America has the biggest number of individuals with guns in possession. The widespread misuse of guns has created significant public discussion in the social media. Some states like California have lethal criminal gangs that have access to killer weapons that are not even in the hands of the police force (Turner, 2014). When society is left without any form of control, the gangs might find a haven in which they can perform their criminal activities unnoticed.

The National Security Agency becomes significantly handy at this point. Before the Fourth Amendment, the officials would storm the criminals’ dens and uncover all the information that they deemed important to file a case against the suspects (Smith, 2003). The other example is when an individual is thought have some important and secret government information that might provide leads to help file a case. The agency officials have the authority of checking all the files and information of the individual in question. Moreover, they will look at the emails he or she has sent or any other form of the suspect’s communication in the social media.

The NSA has been worried by the developing events since the advent of the WikiLeaks. Just like the Department of Homeland Security, there is the acute need to boost the number and expatriate individuals to deal with the intelligent online scammers and threats. The dark web is now the destination for the individuals who would like to share information without being noticed. It works on such a programming language, in which the servers of the website would not particularly identify the sender of the information. They only remain with the authority of verifying the truth before posting it to the public who are interested in knowing the truth. The National Security Agency had the authority to access the files on the website and perform surveillance on all kinds of communication on the website.

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The phone-snooping program brought by the NSA infringes on the privacy rights of citizens. According to some individuals, the program is indiscriminate because of the arbitrary invasion due to it using systematic collection and retention of private data on virtually every single American citizen. Surely, the program infringes on the privacy of the citizens that is protected in the Fourth Amendment.

Although the government assures the statesmen that there is no need of them to worry about the broad NSA surveillance programs, some other courts have found the programs to be unreasonable under the Fourth Amendment in more than one occasion. In addition, the Court found out that the implementation of the government of its authority under the statute has “circumvented the spirit of the law” on at least one occasion. Despite the concerns raised by the courts, lawmakers seem unconcerned and they do not seem to care how many citizens the NSA has caught in its vast and growing databases. Given the large volume of the NSA surveillance, the fact that some NSA surveillance is constitutional is less significant. The good part of it is that some of it is unconstitutional when public accountability is of paramount interest (Chesterman, 2011).


Everyone understands the desire to keep the country safe, but the refusal of those in power to acknowledge the Fourth Amendment makes people feel restless. To preserve the Fourth Amendment, certain reforms can be useful. The reforms should clarify and correct mistakes of the legislative, executive, and judicial interpretation. First, there should be no presumption that private records possessed by the third parties may get taken by the government without there being a probable cause. Additionally, all warrants should be issued by the non-partisan judges or magistrates only to preserve the separation of power inherent in the Fourth Amendment. Because they would issue the warrants in chambers, there would be no controversies to matters concerning national security. In a democratic country like America, the government should be concerned with the special interest of the state individuals. Before coming up with a move like the Fourth Amendment, the local citizens should be consulted. If the necessary security measures are not taken, the citizens will opt for safer places where they feel that their security is paramount and not violated. A magnificent example of such a place is the dark web.

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