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The Ethical Dilemma of the USA Government Wiretapping

By Arwen Mullikin, researcher and Shawon S. M. Rahman, University of Hawaii.


USA Government wiretapping activities is a very controversial issue. Undoubtedly this technology can assist law enforced authority to detect / identify unlawful or hostile activities; however, this task raises severe privacy concerns. In this paper, we have discussed this complex information technology issue of governmental wiretapping and how it effects both public and private liberties. Legislation has had a major impact on theuses and the stigma of wiretapping for the war on terrorism. This paper also analyzes the ethical and legal concerns inherent when discussing the benefits and concerns of wiretapping. The analysis has concluded with the effects of wiretapping laws as they relate to future government actions in their fight against terrorists.

Keywords: Wiretapping, government invasion of rights, terrorist attacks, eavesdropping, privacy, ethics.


We believe the advances of technology allows for amazing advances which have kept our the United States safe from terrorists for the last eight years. The ethical sides of our practices have caught national attention and a firestorm of debates has risen on wiretapping and the ethical concerns, as well as, the related laws. “Developments in technology have also had a profound impact on privacy. To attempt to function in modern society without employing telecommunications is to be eccentric”[1].

There is no doubt that wiretapping is very controversial and causes deep passions to arise from those who are for wiretapping and for those who are against it. In 2009 we observed the United States District Judge Vaughn Walker threaten to side in favor of the plaintiffs if the Obama Administration did not produce documents showing communications intercepted without warrants against Al-Haramain Islamic Foundation officials [2]. This wiretapping case has been going on for three years and there does not seem to be a resolution in site. Wiretapping is not new to presidents, in fact it has been going on since the 1800’s, just not as high tech as it is today. The United States Constitution gives the president power to protect the country from national attacks. And who would not want that? The ethical dilemma lies in not just the legality of wiretapping, but in the question of whether our private and public freedoms are being run over by a zealous government, all in the name of national security.

The United States Constitution does not give citizens an inalienable right to privacy but the Fourth Amendment does protect US Citizens from government illegal searches and seizures. It is a balancing act between protecting US Citizens private and public freedoms, and protecting their liberties from being trounced upon. Wiretapping has been around since the 1800s, and is every bit as controversial as it was back then. The history of wiretapping will clearly show the controversial pros and cons of this issue.

Suggested Citation:

Mullikin, Arwen and Rahman, Shawon S. M., The Ethical Dilemma of the USA Government Wiretapping (November 24, 2010). International Journal of Managing Information Technology (IJMIT), Vol.2, No.4, November 2010. Available at SSRN:


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