U.S. And U.K. Approaches to the War on Terror: The Surveillance of Religious Worship
University of Miami International & Comprehensive Law Review, Vol. 14, p. 217, 2006
Posted: 7 Aug 2009
Date Written: 2006
In 2002, Attorney General John Ashcroft revised decades-old restrictions on the FBI’s authority to carry out surveillance of religious activities. Ashcroft authorized FBI agents to attend mosque services on the same terms as members of the public, even though monitoring religious worship falls within the core of activities the First Amendment protects and likely 'chills' individual behavior. With dialogue beginning over extending provisions of the Patriot Act set to sunset and a flurry of legislative activity taking place in the U.K. in the wake of the subway bombings, it is timely to revisit Ashcroft’s amendments to the FBI’s powers, as well. Ashcroft’s reformulation of the FBI’s role brought the Agency closer to the unfettered position long enjoyed by the United Kingdom’s MI5 security service. In the past, however, the U.S. and U.K. have struck different balances with respect to the protection of civil liberties and the defense of national security. The U.K.’s approach to counterterrorism developed through its struggle to subdue violence perpetrated by the Irish Republican Army. Congress, on the other hand, adopted guidelines restricting the FBI after revelations in the 1970s of widespread intelligence abuses. In 1975, the Senate Church Committee exposed an FBI that investigated groups and individuals based on their political and religious stance, not because of any proclivity towards criminal activity. The Church Committee’s final report detailed a 25-year investigation of the NAACP, a 31-year infiltration of the Socialist Workers Party, harassment of the Women’s Liberation Movement, and 17,528 domestic investigations of individual citizens. The unlimited surveillance of First Amendment-protected activity is inappropriate in the U.S., given the country’s experience with intelligence abuses, even though broad surveillance powers may reflect the appropriate compromise between liberty and security in the U.K.
Keywords: First Amendment, Terrorism Law, Comparative Law
JEL Classification: N4
Suggested Citation: Suggested Citation