One Nation Under Surveillance

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What limits, if any, should be placed on a government’s efforts to spy on its citizens in the name of national security? Spying on foreigners has long been regarded as an unseemly but necessary enterprise. Spying on one’s own citizens in a democracy, by contrast, has historically been subject to various forms of legal and political restraint. For most of the twentieth century these regimes were kept distinct. That position is no longer tenable. Modern threats do not respect national borders. Changes in technology make it impractical to distinguish between ‘foreign’ and ‘local’ communications. And our culture is progressively reducing the sphere of activity that citizens can reasonably expect to be kept from government eyes.

The main casualty of this transformed environment will be privacy. Recent battles over privacy have been dominated by fights over warrantless electronic surveillance and CCTV; the coming years will see debates over DNA databases, data mining, and biometric identification. There will be protests and lawsuits, editorials and elections resisting these attacks on privacy. Those battles are worthy. But the war will be lost. Modern threats increasingly require that governments collect such information, governments are increasingly able to collect it, and citizens increasingly accept that they will collect it.

One Nation Under Surveillance, by Simon Chesterman, proposes a move away from questions of whether governments should collect information and onto more problematic and relevant questions concerning its use. By reframing the relationship between privacy and security in the language of a social contract, mediated by a citizenry who are active participants rather than passive targets, this book offers a framework to defend freedom without sacrificing liberty.

Advance Praise

“This book squarely faces the taboo subject of domestic privacy in an era of Islamist terrorism. Our enemies are not nation-states, so the targets of the intelligence services seeking to pre-empt terrorist attacks must be individuals. The casualty will be individual privacy. People will struggle against heightened surveillance, Chesterman notes, ‘but the war will be lost.’ A must-read for anyone interested in staying current about the privacy implications of the war on terror.” — Frederick P. Hitz, former Inspector General, CIA

“This is an important book, breaking new ground in the sweep of its analysis, its analytical insights, and the policy implications it draws out. It shows just how often foreign and domestic intelligence gathering in the major democracies has been insensitive to public accountability, legality, and its consequences for individuals, to the detriment of both liberty and security–and how this can and must change. Simon Chesterman writes, as always, with compelling clarity and authority.” — Gareth Evans, President Emeritus of the International Crisis Group and former Foreign Minister of Australia

“Simon Chesterman offers a clear, thoughtful, and incisive analysis of the long-standing tension between civil liberties, on the one hand, and security against threats to the polity, on the other hand. He takes a new tact on this old dilemma by probing into the question of what governments actually do with all the information they gather on their citizens. This is an interesting and provocative book.” — Loch K. Johnson, Professor of Political Science, University of Georgia

“Simon Chesterman moves the debate on privacy beyond the question of whether the government and its intelligence services should have access to personal information to the realistic recognition that electronic transparency is here to stay. In a series of carefully articulated arguments, Chesterman outlines mechanisms that can hold governments accountable for the uses of that information. In so doing, he points the way to a twenty-first century rethinking of notions of privacy, security, and the laws that regulate them.” — Karen J. Greenberg, Executive Director of the Center on Law and Security, New York University School of Law

Read the introduction on SSRN.com

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Selected reviews

Huffington Post

Intelligence and National Security

I•CON – International Journal of Constitutional Law

Journal of Law, Information & Science

New York Review of Books

New York University Journal of International Law & Politics

Political Science Quarterly

Times Higher Education Review

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