Balancing Safety, Security Post-9/11

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Although 84 percent of Americans believe a terrorist attack will occur in the next decade, support for the government’s increased investigation powers since 9/11 has steadily declined, according to a Harris Poll released Wednesday.

“With the passing of 10 years, there are many other events that now frame how we approach this anniversary,” said Regina A. Corso, senior vice president of Public Relations and Youth Research at Harris Poll, in a press release.

“Wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the presidential election of 2008, and watching the events unfold in the Middle East this past spring are some, but the largest is probably the death of Osama bin Laden just a few short months ago,” Corso said. “While each anniversary since 2001 has been poignant, there is always something notable about looking back a decade.”

Ten years after the 9/11 attacks, Americans have become accustomed to most of the increased security measures enacted to combat terrorism, but many still question whether or not law enforcement is using its expanded powers appropriately.

Forty-six percent of those surveyed in the nationwide poll said they are not sure if those powers are being used properly, while 20 percent think the government has misused its expanded investigation abilities.

Since September 2001, the percentage of Americans who support expanded government monitoring of cell phones and e-mail to intercept communications has fallen from 54 percent to 38 percent.

Support for stronger documentation and physical security checks for travelers declined the most, down from 93 percent to 69 percent, according to the poll. Yet, 38 percent said they are still more nervous when flying than they were before the 9/11 attacks.

In May, the U.S. Congress passed, which was signed into law by President Barack Obama, a four-year extension of the Patriot Act, a law that has been harshly criticized because it authorizes many of the enhanced investigation powers law enforcement uses to combat terrorism.

“By expanding the government’s authority to secretly search private records and monitor communications, often without any evidence of wrongdoing, the Patriot Act has violated our most basic right – the freedom from unwarranted government intrusion into our private lives – and thwarted constitutional checks and balances,” said Michael German, senior policy counsel for the ACLU, in a press release earlier this year.

However, 86 percent support expanded under-cover activities by federal, state and local law enforcement officials to penetrate groups under suspicion – only 7 percentage points lower than in 2001.

During a hearing Wednesday, Deputy Secretary Jane Holl Lute of the Department of Homeland Security addressed concerns about any possible overreach by the government.

“We have represented in our programs and activities the department’s commitment to the idea that core civil rights values – liberty, fairness and equality under the law – are a vital part of America, and that is these values that also provide a bulwark against those who threaten our safety and security,” Lute said, while speaking to members of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs.

Murfreesboro native Kath Hansen, who has lived in New York City for more than a decade, survived the attacks and collapse of the World Trade Center. She said she understands both sides of the argument.

“The government would be criticized if they didn’t take steps to protect Americans too,” Hansen said. “It’s a fine line between protecting liberty and losing liberty. They are doing the best they can.”

Today, Hansen is the marketing and sales director of the Modern Language Association, which is located three blocks from the World Trade Center site.

“After 9/11, I was ready to get out of here because it was really scary,” she said. “I was one of those people covered in dust. But as time went on, you realize you could be attacked anywhere. I’m much less likely to leave now.”

As the anniversary approaches each year, she said she walks the same route she took to work the morning of the 9/11 attacks to reflect on how life has changed and remember those who did not survive.

She said although she has become much more aware of the possibility of another terrorism attack, she has learned an important lesson.

“You can’t live in fear,” she said.
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