The Other 20-Year Anniversary: Freedom and Surveillance Post-9/11 | WHAT REALLY HAPPENED X-Frame-Options: DENY X-Frame-Options: SAMEORIGIN

The Other 20-Year Anniversary: Freedom and Surveillance Post-9/11

By Cindy Cohn and Matthew Guariglia

The twentieth anniversary of the attacks of September 11, 2021 are a good time to reflect on the world we’ve built since then. Those attacks caused incalculable heartbreak, anger and fear. But by now it is clear that far too many things that were put into place in the immediate aftermath of the attacks, especially in the areas of surveillance and government secrecy, are deeply problematic for our democracy, privacy and fairness. It’s time to set things right.

The public centerpiece of our effort to increase government surveillance in response to the attacks was the passage of the Patriot Act, which will have its own 20th anniversary on October 26. But much more happened, and far too much of it was not revealed until years later. Our government developed a huge and expensive set of secret spying operations that eviscerated the line between domestic and foreign surveillance and swept up millions of non-suspect Americans’ communications and records. With some small but critical exceptions, Congress almost completely abdicated its responsibility to check the power of the Executive. Later, the secret FISA court shifted from merely approving specific warrants to a quasi-agency charged with reviewing entire huge secret programs without either the knowledge or the authority to provide meaningful oversight. All of these are a critical part of the legacy of September 11...