The term terrorism does not have a universal definition as the meaning varies from one legal jurisdiction to another or in different government agencies. Terrorism is a social construct meaning its definition varies from one political or social reality to another. Additionally, the governments across the globe remain divided on the actual meaning of the term, perhaps due to the political emotions that come with it.
Various scholars have come up with definitions of the term, however, these meanings are not universally accepted since they depend on the political and social environment of the person. The commonly used definition which is widely accepted, especially in the academic circles, is “unlawful use of violence to advance a political agenda,” the violence, in this case, is usually aimed at the armed civilians. Alex Schmid points out two critical considerations in this definition: (1) Someone is on receiving from the act of terror; (2) the word comes from the victims or targets of the terrorists. However, the victims of the government’s violent repression also the act of terrorism even though it is committed by the authority within their legal framework. On the other hand, the government defines terrorism based on the violence from the opposition or insurgents. In either way violence is the common factor in the word’s definition, legality or illegality of its use (violence) is debatable and depends on the recipient of the act.
The constitution of the United States defines terrorism as “a premeditated, politically motivated violence perpetrated against noncombatant targets by subnational groups or clandestine agents.” An act of terrorism includes the use of violence (whether legal or illegal) to advance a political agenda by state, citizens or undercover persons. Secondly, the act must reach more than the target victims almost immediately; however, in some cases, the victims are just collateral in passing the message to the authorities (Matusitz, 2013). Other act of violence that fall out of terrorism include the war between nations, self-defense or when apprehending a criminal, collateral damage during war or the legitimate targets.
The rising cases of terrorism across the globe are a threat to not only the country’s homeland security but also the global peace. More often the victims of these attacks are unarmed civilians going around their usual business. For instance, the September 11 attacks left 2996 people dead and at least 6000 injured, mainly civilians. The attack by the Islamist terrorist group Al-Qaeda is perhaps the worst attack ever carried out on American soil. Besides the loss of lives and injuries, the strike caused a destruction of infrastructure worth ten billion US dollars (IAGS, 2004). Other losses included $1.3 billion cleanup cost, 83,000 direct job losses, $40 the insurance industry and unvalued amount in the global market fall (IAGS, 2004).
Besides the United States, countries like Kenya, Syria, Tanzania and Pakistan has had to strengthen their homeland security systems to deal with the rising threats from terrorist groups. For example, on April 2015 an Al-Qaeda linked terrorist group Al-Shabaab launched an attack in one of the Kenyan universities killing 148 people and 79 others injured (BBC , 2015). It is one of the worst attacks in learning institution in the recent times and the county’s third deadliest attack after the 1998 bombings of the U embassy in Nairobi, Kenya’s capital and another in Westgate Mall (one of the popular malls in the country) (BBC , 2015). The above examples just show how global peace is increasingly becoming threatened considering the rising number of groups associating with terrorists organizations.
The government through the Department of Homeland security has a responsibility to curb any threat from terrorists or their organizations to ensure the safety of her citizens. It is a primary responsibility of any government to protect the interest of her people including protection from both internal and external aggressors. It is worth noting that terrorists are not necessarily non-citizens but they can be citizens advancing the political agenda of their organization. Therefore, it is prudent to have necessary measure prevent any act of violence that threatens the peace of the citizens of this country.
Increasing surveillance is the first step in preventing any terrorist attack that is likely to take place in the country. More often than not the terrorist maximizes on the security lapse to launch their attack. In this case, the lapse might include reluctance to act on the intelligence or simply incapability. Inadequate monitoring systems in public areas or lack of bio-data of the citizens also provide a fertile ground that the attackers often exploit to launch an attack on their targets. Lacks monitoring systems means the security department is not capable of following the incidences in public places and identify any suspicious character. Additionally, a government that lacks biological information of her citizens certainly makes it difficult to identify a foreigner with links to terrorist organizations.
One of the economical ways of enhancing public surveillance is the installation of security cameras. The cameras are then linked to control center where the government security apparatus monitor all activities taking in the public area. Consequently, it makes it easy to identify any suspicious character that present security threat to the public. Additionally, the cameras identify any ‘unusual’ object in the area that is easily picked and analyzed for any danger by the security experts. Terrorists often use two methods to launch their surprise attacks, either planting their bombs in strategic locations or use suicide bombs in crowded areas. Regardless of the method the surveillance cameras can easily pick them out.
Additionally, the surveillance cameras are also gets connected to face identification system to further enhance the security of the streets. Face recognition technology works through comparing the face captured in the camera, still photos or videos, with that in the database. When it detects a matching face or faces it informs the officer in charge who then alerts the officer on the ground or immediate action. It is admissible facts that despite the United States having strong immigration system terrorists and undocumented persons sometimes find their way into the country. These terrorists can then launch their attack on the targets without much hesitation. But with the surveillance cameras with face recognition technology easily help the authority in identifying them. However, these systems are only effective if the department of the homeland has an adequate database of her citizens, including their faces, and that of the wanted persons.
Apart from improving safety in public places, the camera recordings are also useful when it comes to the prosecution of the suspects. The United States is a country that respects the rule of law making it impossible to arbitrary executes a suspect. Everyone suspect is innocent till proven guilty and it is upon the prosecution to prove their case. As a result, the camera footages form a critical part of prosecution as they are used in proving the case. Lack of sufficient evidence before the court leads to the release of the suspect who might not necessarily be innocent. In such a situation, the terrorist can end up committing the act undeterred.
Homeland security is one of the departments that consume a significant portion of both the Federal and budget. In the 2017 financial year, the department received over 66 billion dollars to run its operation. The figure was an increase of $506 million from the previous year which was US$66.3 billion (DHS, 2016). Installation of a surveillance camera on the streets and public areas will certainly lower the cost of providing security to the citizens. The presence of the devices lowers the demand in the number of police officers manning the streets creating an extra pool of officers that can be deployed to areas. Consequently, the department will need less number of police officers to provide security which in turn lowers the costs such as salaries, insurance covers and physical infrastructure among other areas.
Another step in improving homeland security and protecting this beautiful nation from potential terror attacks is through continuously collecting the bio-data of all citizens, residents, and immigrants entering the country. The bio-data are essential in monitoring the movement of every citizen within and outside our borders. Monitoring ‘real-time’ activities of everyone within the country helps in identifying anybody engaging in suspicious activity such as unsanctioned military training or manufacture weapons (or chemicals) that poses risks to the public. Additionally, monitoring the activities of the United States citizens living abroad through the Embassies in various countries helps in establishing what they exactly do in those countries. Such a move prevent the country from allowing back into the country citizens that were involved in suspicious activities abroad, especially in terror-prone countries in the Middle East.
Thirdly, the tightening the immigration checkpoints in the country also help in enhancing the homeland security. In 2017, the United States had approximately over 20 million immigrants out of which 11.1 million were unauthorized immigrants (Pimienti, 2017). South Asia was the biggest source of the refugees constituting 26.9 percent, Mexico came second with 26.8 percent, and the Middle East had four percent with Sub-Saharan Africa recording the least immigrants at 3.9 percent (Pimienti, 2017).
The high number of people moving into the United States in pursuit of the ‘American Dream’ is not only an economic concern but also security. From the statistics, it is obvious that significant populations of the immigrants are escaping conflicts from their countries, especially in the Middle East and a section of South Asia. These are regions have active terrorist cells and there is no doubt some of the immigrants moving into the country could have a connection with groups. Tightening the immigration rules and checks lowers the chances of ‘bad elements’ finding their way into the country.
On the other hand, tightening the immigration rules, collecting biodata and surveillance cameras come with legal challenges and security concerns. Firstly, installing cameras on the streets and other public areas raises the legal issue of the privacy of the citizens. The Privacy Act of 1974 protects the citizens from an unauthorized collection of their information by the government. Video recording and storage of the information in the government systems without the authorization from the individuals has possible legal consequences as they can sue the state for unlawfully obtaining and keeping their information. Additionally, the Fourth Amendment makes it hard for the prosecution to use documents that are illegally obtained as part of the evidence in a court of law. In other words, the some of the recordings by the cameras might get rejected if the defense team proves the privacy of their client was breached.
Secondly, both the biodata and camera records can easily land into wrong hands if the security systems are breached. Currently, cybersecurity is one of the concerns when it comes to keeping the data. Cybercrimes are on the rise and this should worry everyone dealing with the technology systems that store personal information of the citizens. In fact, the data collected for security reasons can turn otherwise if they land in the hands of the enemy. Perhaps the impact of what happens when data lands on the wrong hands is the ongoing case between Facebook and Cambridge Analytica. The latter is accused is obtaining personal data of Facebook users and using it for political reasons.
In conclusion, the Department of the Homeland Security can use the above three methods to enhance the safety of our citizens and protect the country from the rising terrorism threats. The three methods include tightening immigration rules, installing security cameras and obtaining biodata from all citizens. However, these measures also present legal and cybersecurity challenges but the benefit supersedes them.
BBC . (2015, April 4). Kenya al-Shabab attack: Security questions as dead mourned. Retrieved April 14, 2018, from BBC News:
DHS. (2016, February 2). FY 2017 Budget-in-Brief. Retrieved April 14, 2018, from Homeland Security:
IAGS. (2004). How much did the September 11 terrorist attack cost America? Retrieved April 14, 2018, from Institute for the Analysis of Global Security:
Matusitz, J. (2013). Terrorism and Communication:A critical Introduction . Sage Publications.
Pimienti, M. (2017). Snapshot of U.S. Immigration 2017. Retrieved April 14, 2018, from NCSL: