The Liberty – Security Question

In my last post I pointed out that President François Hollande’s impassioned push for the extension of a state of emergency in France was just the opening of the abyss for French civil rights. And if that extension is granted, which it likely will be, what then? Will the emergency truly be over in just three short months? Does the defeat of ISIS now have a timetable? And, once it is defeated, will civil liberties be restored?

I doubt it. The fear propaganda train will just keep rolling into the night of uncertainty. After all, it could happen again. Best leave things as they are.

Our own experience with civil rights curtailment run amok is an excellent example. The Patriot Act was passed in 2001, shortly after the 9/11 attacks, and we didn’t get rid of most of it until June of this year. Perhaps the most sinister aspect of the law was Section 215, which authorized law enforcement to seize any tangible things (including books, records, papers, documents, and other items)” deemed necessary to a terrorism investigation. Edward Snowden‘s revelation that the NSA was using Section 215 to collect bulk phone data from millions of unsuspecting Americans was the coup de grâce to Patriot, which was ultimately gutted and reborn as the Freedom Act.

Now Florida Republican Senator Marco Rubio, a candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, wants to delay the reform of the Freedom Act. As it stands now, the NSA’s unfettered access to the phone records of most Americans ends on November 29. Rubio wants to delay that in the name of national security, and in fact wants to bring back parts of the Patriot Act. Rubio’s rationale is thus:

The Paris terrorist attacks remind us that no corner of the free world is safe from these savages, and it is our duty to defeat them by any means necessary. The USA Freedom Act signed into law earlier this year left our intelligence community with fewer tools to protect the American people and needlessly created more vulnerabilities and gaps in information gathering used to prevent terrorist attacks at home and abroad.

I have no argument with President Hollande or Senator Rubio that ISIS is a threat and must be defeated. But that is not the issue. The issue is that citizens of any country should not be expected to suspend or renounce their civil liberties in exchange for feeling secure. If a government cannot protect her populace without robbing it of its inalienable rights, then it is a very sorry one indeed. And if a country’s population is willing to surrender its liberty for security, then it deserves neither.