The American Right to Privacy: Legacies of the 1975 Church Committee in U.S. Public Memory (1976 - 2021)
In 1975, the U.S. Senate Select Committee to Study Governmental Operations with Respect to Intelligence Activities began a long and thorough investigation into American intelligence operations. The Committee, dubbed "The Church Committee" after its chairperson Senator Frank Church, responded to growing public concern that U.S. agencies such as the FBI, the NSA, and the CIA were abusing executive authority against the American people. Their domestic spying and counterintelligence operations against U.S. citizens, conducted under the guise of foreign intelligence surveillance, had been revealed. The United States has declared privacy an essential component of an active democratic society, but in the interest of national security, to what extent can, and should, individual privacy be maintained? Prior to the terrorist attacks of 9/11, it could be argued that the memory of the Church Committee encouraged legislation to make a concentrated effort to regulate executive agencies to protect individual privacy; however, once the investigations ended, the Committee's findings faded from public memory. Furthermore, once terrorist attacks threatened the safety of Americans, concern for infringement of individual privacy and the original intentions of the Church Committee was largely forgotten. However, American whistleblower Edward Snowden's exposure of NSA data collection operations in 2013 reinvigorated discussions of privacy expectations and set the stage for requests for a second Church Committee. Through a historical survey of modern intelligence history, I explore how society has remembered the Church Committee and its ideas of privacy, and more significantly, whether we need a second investigation to understand the extent to which U.S. citizen' privacy rights are still being violated today.