Ethics and Technology at Homeland Security Essay

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Ethical Considerations for the Use of Technology to Meet Selected Homeland Security Objectives


The Digital Age has transformed the way the world works for better or worse. Technology exists to bring down nations’ infrastructures without ever firing a missile (Ten, Manimaran & Liu, 2010). New technology has been developed that can allow agencies to spy, snoop, monitor, and retrieve conversations had online, through email, on cell phones, or via text messaging. To meet security needs, using this technology has very real and practical advantages. At the same time, there are privacy rules and regulations that have to be considered as the Fourth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution clearly gives people the right to privacy. Nonetheless, Homeland Security requires that the nation consider the evolution of terrorism and view it not just as an external threat but also as an internal threat. In other words, terrorism is not just a variable or factor that comes from outside the borders—it can also come from inside. Domestic terrorism or homegrown terrorism can result from the radicalization of members of society who are disgruntled, angry and in communication with radical elements abroad. Immigration presents specific risks for precisely that reason. Yet ethical issues and standards exist to protect the people from overreach by government and to ensure Americans do not have to end up fearing their government as much as they fear the threat of terror. This paper will discuss the ethical considerations that have to be made for the use of technology to meet Homeland Security objectives.


Technology is crucial to monitoring and addressing issues that arise because of immigration (such as through the use of RFID chipping). Technology can be used to monitor the movements of immigrants, to patrol borders (via drone technology). Communication lines can be tapped, and so on. But should immigrants be required to have an RFID chip implanted in them to allow for their every move to be known by government? Does the use of drain technology present a slippery slope? Does spying on communications encroach on the rights of the person to privacy? These questions have very clear ethical domains that must be addressed.

Search and Seizure Applications

Search and seizure issues have to be addressed as well. The Fourth Amendment states that citizens have “the right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized” (U.S. Const. amend. IV). While numerous court cases have shown that law enforcement must give notice before breeching a person’s privacy— Wilson v. Arkansas (514 U.S. 927, 931-932, 1995), Miller v. United States (357 U.S. 301, 1958) and Sabbath v. United States (391 U.S. 585, 1968)—others have shown that law enforcement agents are not required to do so— Hudson v. Michigan 547 U.S. 586, 2008)—for example. In terms of searching and seizing a person’s electronic devices, the Electronic Privacy Control Act of 1986 has been instrumental in transforming the manner in which law enforcement has the right to search citizens’ electronic devices, and this law was passed well before 9/11. And the power of the government to search using new technology has only intensified since then along with powerful new technology tools that make it easy for peoples’ data to be collected.

Leveraging Technological Advancements

Leveraging technological advancements like the ones provided by Google and Amazon is important when it comes to protecting the nation. Evolving technologies relate to national and international policymaking, as has recently been demonstrated by the EU’s new laws pertaining to data collection by tech firms.

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Agencies that collect and monitor tech data are not bound by borders but rather can extend their influence over multiple countries and nations. Technology exists to monitor internationally persons who travel and who have connections overseas and abroad, and in the U.S. it is possible that they will be monitored and watched.

General Approach for DHS and FEMA to Retain Ethical Considerations in Mind When Using New Technologies

The U.S. Department of Justice notes that “law enforcement-private security partnerships have been viewed as critical to preventing terrorism and terror-related acts” (U.S. Department of Justice, 2005, p. vii). With 85% of America’s infrastructure being overseen and protected by the private security sector, it is incumbent that collaboration and partnership with the private sector be engaged (U.S. Department of Justice, 2005). However,…

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…security (Harawa, 2013). However, 3thically speaking, technology has allowed for more and more advanced monitoring systems to be put in place and the question that remains is: just because they can be used, does that mean they should be used?

The Role of Planning and Exercises in Reducing Ethical Compromises

DHS can plan, train and exercise to reduce ethical compromises in terms of using technology either illegally or unethically to spy on citizens. The Patriot Act and the Homeland Security Act set the stage for a massive overhaul of the surveillance state, allowing more freedom to the surveillance agencies (Primus, 2011). This has not been received well by citizens who prefer to maintain anonymity and security. The political and social consequences of these Acts will continue to develop in the foreseeable future and DHS should plan accordingly so as not to be accused of acting unethically.

Intentional and Unintentional Potentials for Actions to be Models

The government sets the example of behavior both around the world and among local and regional governments. However, government at the local and regional level is more likely to be held accountable by the public than the central government, which often seems beyond the reach of local activists. Thus, actions that could be seen as models of behavior may exist, but local citizens will be able to challenge the implementation of those models at the local level more easily than they can at the federal level; thus, DHS should not be primarily concerned with this issue.

The Slippery Slope

The DHS and FEMA should, however, be mindful of adhering both to the letter and to the spirit of the law when using new technologies to collect data on or monitor immigrants or suspicious persons. These laws have not given them carte blanche to act as they like and the repercussions of the recent Mueller/Trump/Russian Collusion findings will likely shape the way policymakers, legislators and prosecutors go about holding this country’s agencies accountable in the future. Thus caution should be the buzzword whenever the temptation to overstep possible boundaries appears. Once ethics are breeched they are easier to neglect in the future. This matters with respect to the execution of crucial missions in Homeland Security because America is a country that….....

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Harawa, D. (2013). The Post-TSA Airport: A Constitution Free Zone? Pepperdine Law Review, 41(1), 1-60.

Primus, E. (2011). Disentangling Administrative Searches. Columbia Law Review, 111: 254-312.

Ten, C. W., Manimaran, G., & Liu, C. C. (2010). Cybersecurity for critical infrastructures: Attack and defense modeling. IEEE Transactions on Systems, Man, and Cybernetics-Part A: Systems and Humans, 40(4), 853-865.

U.S. Const. amend. IV.

U. S. Department of Justice. (2005). Engaging the Private Sector To Promote Homeland Security: Law Enforcement-Private Security Partnerships. Retrieved from Engaging the Private Sector To Promote Homeland Security: Law Enforcement-Private Security Partnerships

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