The Department of Homeland Security was formed days after the September 11th attack on the World Trade Center (United States Department of Homeland Security, 2014). The purpose of this newly created office was to assess and prevent threats to national security. In November of 2002, the United States government passed the Homeland Security Act, which allowed the Department of Homeland Security to be a stand-alone department. The history of the Department of Homeland Security will be explored in order to determine what laws govern this office, and to determine what weaknesses affect the Department of Homeland Security’s ability to protect the nation.
Although the Department of Homeland Security is widely governed by the 2002 Homeland Security Act, the passage of the Patriot Act has also influenced the powers ascribed to the Department of Homeland Security. According to the United States Department of Justice (2014) the purpose of the Patriot Act was to give more power to the government in order to detect, deter, and prevent acts of terrorism. As addressed by the American Health Information Management Association (n.d.) the Patriot Act “enhanced law enforcement investigatory tools, by dramatically reducing restrictions pertaining to law enforcement requests to search telephone records, e-mail communications, and health records” (para. 4). The passage of this Act helped to ensure that government officials could use wiretaps, phone records, or other records of transmission in order to prevent a future act of terrorism.
Another Act that directly influenced the powers ascribed to the Department of Homeland Security was the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004 (United States Department of Homeland Security, 2014). This Act helped to reorganize the way the Department of Homeland Security receives information, establish an information-sharing environment, and establish a National Counterterrorism Center. In addition, this Act included Executive Order 13356, which was replaced one year later with Executive Order 13388. Although there are differences between these Acts, both focused on giving, “the highest priority to the detection, prevention, disruption, preemption, and mitigation of the effects of terrorist activities against the territory, people, and interests of the United States of America” (Government Printing Office, 2005, p. 1).
In addressing more recent actions, the Obama administration has implemented new measures in order to ensure the safety of the nation. In 2014, the Obama administration authorized the United States government to spend more than $1 trillion over the next thirty years in building nuclear weapons (The Huffington Post, 2014). The need to build more nuclear weapons is heavily based on the fact that the nuclear weapons built in the 1980’s “are reaching the end of their operational lives” (para. 3). Yet the need to create new nuclear weapons is further evident as new technologies have emerged since the older nuclear weapons were created in the 1980’s.
In addition to authorizing the creation of new nuclear weapons, the Obama administration has taken action against the growing ISIS threat. In September of 2014, President Obama authorized airstrikes against ISIS members in Syria and Iraq. However, the United States is not alone in these airstrikes, as a wide array of Middle Eastern countries are also participating in these strikes (The Guardian, 2014). Although President Obama widely admits that he underestimated the growing threat of ISIS, his authorization of airstrikes will help to decrease the likelihood that an ISIS member plans or implements an attack on the United States.
Although the Department of Homeland Security has been able to ensure no terrorist acts have occurred on U.S. soil thus far, there are some weaknesses within this department. As addressed by Hicks (2013) the Department of Homeland Security is using outdated technology, making it increasingly difficult to prevent hackers from obtaining vital information. The increased number of retailers being hacked throughout the United States further demonstrates how popular hacking has become. The lack of advanced technology being applied by the Department of Homeland Security could inevitably hurt the country long-term. In a recent interview given by the head of the NSA, Admiral Michael Rogers states, “there is a huge risk that America’s own power utilities could be turned into a weapon used against the U.S. citizens and controlled from another land” (para. 8). However, such an attack would take a high skill level that only a few governments possess. Despite this prospect, it is possible for terrorists to learn how to compromise the nation’s infrastructure.
Another weakness surrounding the powers ascribed to the Department of Homeland Security is the powers given to the department under the Patriot Act. As previously discussed the Patriot Act gives the government the ability to access an individual’s phone records, conversations, emails, or other records. However, many have questioned whether or not this is a violation of the United States Constitution. The American Civil Liberties Union (2010) further concurs in noting that without this Act, government officials would need to get a warrant in order to search an individual’s conversations. However, the United States Constitution directly prohibits unreasonable search and seizures in the absence of a warrant.
As a result of this Constitutional right, many have questioned the validity and Constitutionality of the Patriot Act. Furthermore, the Wikileaks scandal, revealing classified information as to how the United States government collects information further complicated how society feels about the Patriot Act. Specifically, the Wikileaks scandal demonstrated that NSA has “direct access to data held by Google, Facebook, Apple and other US internet giants” (The Guardian, 2013, para. 5). Additionally, this scandal demonstrated that the United States government required Verizon wireless to hand over thousands of phone records. Yet in viewing the situation from a different perspective, the ability for an individual in charge of classified information to leak this information on the internet further compromises national security (CNN, 2013).
In response to the weaknesses affecting the Department of Homeland Security, President Obama issued the Cyber Security Legislative Proposal (White House, 2015). Although this executive order was meant to regulate information on the internet, its recent passage leaves little known as to how this proposal will affect internet security. As addressed by Fox News (2015) the Obama administration plans “to use existing funds in the 2015 budget and are requesting another $35 million in the 2016 budget proposal for the agency” in order to help reduce the number of cyber attacks and develop new measures to protect confidential information. However, it should be noted that this proposal helps both the United States government and consumers in protecting classified information. The need to protect both consumers and the United States government is increasingly critical, as the information hackers obtain in stealing an individual’s identity could theoretically be used to help them enter the United States illegally.
In response to the criticisms regarding the Patriot Act, President Obama has not directly addressed whether or not he supports this Act. However, during President Obama’s time as a senator he was openly opposed to the use of the Patriot Act, arguing it violated the individual’s Constitutional Rights (Fox News, 2013). Despite President Obama’s lack of consistency, some have that the Obama administration abused the Patriot Act by allowing the federal government to collect information in bulk (L.A. Times, 2013). This belief was further fueled by the Wikileaks scandal. Yet in addressing this scandal, President Obama discredits the idea that Edward Snowden was a whistleblower. Instead, the Obama administration perceives this incident as a threat to national security. Despite this belief, the Obama administration has not released any information as to how they plan to ensure that other individuals in charge of national security will not leak classified information. Furthermore, the Obama administration has not made any significant changes that would address the Patriot Acts or the controversy surrounding this Act.
The creation of the Department of Homeland Security was meant to protect citizens of the United States from another terrorist attack. The Department of Homeland Security has been successful thus far in ensuring another act of terrorism has not occurred. Despite the ability to keep the nation safe, there are some weaknesses pertaining to the Department of Homeland Security. The inability to address aging technology, and the controversy surrounding the Patriot Act are two issues that widely affect the nation’s security. Although President Obama has addressed the need to explore information being placed on the internet, the recent passage of President Obama’s proposal makes it difficult to determine how these changes will affect cyber security.