Saturday, December 01, 2007

Playing Loose with Civil Liberties

I have had several conversations recently, concerning the idea of trading civil liberties for security.

I was telling one friend that for a time, my airline was requiring that all passengers traveling to Israel be electronically fingerprinted prior to check in and boarding. Having never committed a crime, I found it offensive that my fingerprints were being taken and stored electronically. I was assured that this data would be destroyed. I didn't buy that for a second. I know that my fingerprints, and those of many other people are stored in some database somewhere... just in case they should ever be needed. The friend I was discussing this with didn't have a problem with that at all. His comment was that there are always humans involved in interpreting this data and that it isn't just being used by computers to target people indiscriminately. I didn't think quickly enough in the moment to say this, but I'm sure that's how Senator Ted Kennedy got on the 'no fly list' for suspected "terrorists." Some really honest, upstanding person of impeccable character, no doubt, made that judgement (free of political motivations) for sure. I feel so much better knowing that my freedom is being guarded by that sort of person! it only took Senator Kennedy a day or so to be able to resume his travel schedule. What about the people who aren't Senators in the US Congress? How do they get off that list once they are somehow erroneously put on it? Having to depend on the integrity of others to protect our freedoms is a dangerous proposition. That is why we have a constitution in this country!

Our constitution is designed to protect the rights of the individual against abuses of power by other people and our elected officials. Freedom is what makes our country unique, but we are in danger of losing the very characteristic that makes us great.

People will often say, "If you're not doing anything wrong, why would you care if someone reads your mail or email... or listens to your phone calls?" I shudder whenever I hear someone say that. It has nothing to do with whether you are doing anything right or wrong. It has to do with protected civil rights guaranteed to us by our constitution. To so willingly toss those rights away (in the name of 'security') is a slap in the face to everyone who ever fought or died to give us those freedoms. One big concern I have with this statement is the phrase 'doing anything wrong.' It is spoken as though there is an absolute right or wrong that is easily discernible and consistently understood. Powerful people (government officials and rulers) can define things as 'wrong' (like opposing a position taken by the government) and make life miserable for those who take that side of an argument. It's too simplistic to think that there is a definition of 'wrong' and a set of people to create that definition that will not be skewed by the opinions of human beings. Again, that is why our constitution preserves and protects the rights of the individual against the abuses of power and the corruption that often and sometimes inevitably accompanies entrenched power.

Surrendering those rights out of fear and insecurity is a sad and all too often occurring practice. Throughout human history, particularly in times of stress and insecurity, people's rights and freedoms have been curtailed in the name of 'security.' Our current administration are masters of whipping people into fear and panic about the threats of terrorism in order to gradually erode our freedoms through wire tapping, stripping of rights from 'detainees', justification of torture and a variety of other crimes against the constitution. Many people think this is just fine, as long as we are kept 'safe.'

The security and safety that is touted as these actions are taken is... an illusion. In fact, we are inherently less safe, and less prepared to help ourselves when our freedoms are stripped away. We come closer and closer to many other nations whose people are not free (or safe.)

My friend, in our discussion, said he'd rather lose a few civil liberties than be blown out of the sky (in a terrorist attack). I respectfully disagree. I realize that my opinion is a bit extreme on this issue, but I feel I have to be when it comes to defending the protections of our constitution. Therefore, I can honestly say I would rather be blown out of the sky than live my entire life in a cage which purports to protect me from the evils of the world.

Animals in a zoo are 'protected' from the dangers of the wild, but they will never know the sweetness of freedom. They will never live the lives they were intended (and equipped by nature and God) to live. They will forever, only experience an 'approximation' of a complete life. they are forever at the mercy of their 'keepers.' Their quality of life depends completely on the treatment they receive by those who control their environment. Some of us go willingly to the cage. I am not one of those people. There is an illusion of security in the cage, but the price is too high. Furthermore, when you live in a cage, you depend on a keeper to feed you, protect you, to meet your needs. There is a connection between being stripped of your freedom, and becoming dependent in very unhealthy ways on the one who holds the key. We create a dangerous society when we surrender our rights. We should not allow this to happen.

One of the subjects that is often raised in these discussions is how 'we' will never become like other countries who do not grant individual liberties the way we do. There is a naivete that exists when people say this. We are slowly becoming like some of the places I visit where horrible things are done to the citizenry (not to mention perceived 'enemies') in the name of creating 'security.' It is a slippery slope. "We would never get that bad..." is a comment I often hear when comparing 'security' procedures in the US to say Israel. Having been in both worlds, I can say with all sincerity... we are well on our way. I don't want to live in that world.

I encourage us all to look hard at our attitudes about personal civil liberties and the protections granted under our constitution. Those rights are well worth fighting for and defending. Letting them be taken from us, in the name of 'keeping us safe' is the same as willingly walking into the cage to be locked up. We might go in voluntarily, but once you are in, there comes a point when you no longer have the option to walk out. We don't want that to happen. The world will have lost something very precious if we allow that to come to pass.

Benjamin Franklin so correctly said,

"He who would trade liberty for some temporary security, deserves neither liberty nor security."

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