Freedom vs. Security: A False Choice
In recent days administration officials have warned the nation about possible terrorist attacks, subjecting us once again to color-coded threat charts and puzzling admonitions to go about our lives as usual. The message is clear: grave danger surrounds us, but ordinary citizens should do nothing and trust the government take care of it.
But the obvious lesson of September 11th is that government cannot protect us. Even with trillions of tax dollars spent on “defense,” hijacked planes flew unchallenged over our skies and attacked national symbols of business and government. Yet now we’re told to put even more faith into the same bureaucracies that failed us so miserably in the past? Self-reliance and self-defense are American virtues; trembling reliance on the illusion of government-provided security is not.
It's easy for elected officials in Washington to tell Americans that government will do whatever it takes to defeat terrorism, but it’s your freedom and your tax dollars at stake- not theirs. The history of the 20th century demonstrates that the Constitution is violated most egregiously during times of crisis. Many of our worst unconstitutional agencies and programs began during the two world wars and the Depression, when the public was anxious and willing to view government as a savior and protector. Ironically, the Constitution itself was conceived in a time of great crisis. The founders intended to place inviolable restrictions on what the federal government could do even in times of great distress. America must guard against current calls for government to violate the Constitution- meaning break the law- in the name of law enforcement.
The misnamed Patriot Act, presented to the public as an anti-terrorism measure, actually focuses on American citizens rather than foreign terrorists. For example, the definition of "terrorism" for federal criminal purposes has been greatly expanded; future administrations may consider you a terrorist if you belong to a pro-gun group, a citizen militia, or a pro-life organization. Legitimate protest against the government could place you (and tens of thousands of other Americans) under federal surveillance. Similarly, your internet use can be monitored without your knowledge, and your internet provider can be forced to hand over user information to law enforcement without a warrant or subpoena.
The biggest problem with these new law enforcement powers is that they bear little relationship to fighting terrorism. Surveillance powers are greatly expanded, while checks and balances on government are greatly reduced. Most of the provisions have been sought after by domestic law enforcement agencies for years, not to fight terrorism, but rather to increase their police power over the American people. The federal government has made no showing that it failed to detect or prevent the September 11th attacks because of the civil liberties that will be compromised by this new legislation.
America was founded by men who understood that the threat of domestic tyranny is as great as any threat from abroad. If we want to be worthy of their legacy, we must resist the rush toward ever-increasing state control of our society. Otherwise, our own government will become a greater threat to our freedoms than any foreign terrorist.