Benjamin Franklin once said that those who would sacrifice liberty for security deserve neither.
When he wrote these words in 1755, he was in the midst of a brewing revolutionary war, one that would be fought in part because the British were restricting liberty in the name of security--from the imposition of taxes to pay for wars against the French to limits on internal migration. All of this pales in comparison to what our own government is doing today.
For today, so-called patriots are--through mechanisms like the Patriot Act--fulfilling Franklin's worst fears. In the name of the Constitution, they are undermining the Constitution. Although the preamble to the Constitution makes clear that a central purpose of this nation is to "secure the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our posterity," we are finding ourselves every day under siege by our own government. And we are doing absolutely nothing to stop it.
The Constitution reads, "We the people." Perhaps it should read, "We the sheeple."
Which freedoms, exactly, are under siege? Everything from freedom of the press to our right to privacy to our right to not be blown up by our own drones without a trial.
It all started on March 4 when CIA director John Brennan asserted that it would be "possible" for the president to authorize drone strikes against an American citizen on American soil under "extraordinary" circumstances. Eventually, and after much prodding, Attorney General Eric Holder admitted this would be unconstitutional. In a letter to Senator Rand Paul, Holder wrote, " 'Does the president have the authority to use a weaponized drone to kill an American not engaged in combat on American soil?' The answer to that is no." While this is reassuring, despite recent guidelines U.S. policy still allows for the killing of American citizens on foreign soil. As the New York Times reported, the U.S. acknowledged that it "had killed four American citizens in drone strikes outside the battlefields of Afghanistan and Iraq." Apparently this was justified because the men posed a so-called "danger to the United States." Note that these men were handed the death penalty without due process (a fundamental right); but according to our government, this loss of liberty was justified by security requirements. Remember Franklin's quote about the tradeoff between liberty and security?
Recent developments are even more worrying than drone strikes. For they reveal that freedom of the press is being undermined--and not just in one way, as it turns out, but in multiple ways. In each instance, the loss of liberty is again being justified by the (apparently incessant) need for security. For example, in order to excuse the seizure of two months of AP phone records, the government cited its investigation into a leak about a foiled Yemeni terror plot. In order to justify a criminal investigation of Fox News reporter James Rosen--in which the government intruded on Rosen's privacy by examining his emails--the government cited the need to investigate who leaked relatively harmless details about an intelligence analysis on North Korea. The alleged source of that leak, former State Department analyst Stephen Kim, has since been criminally charged.
Most recently, we learned from a foreign news source (perhaps because our own media is now too scared to investigate these things) that even the privacy of law-abiding citizens is not exempt from this constant, insatiable need for "security measures." Your liberty, it seems, can be encroached on even if you haven't done anything wrong. As The Guardian revealed Thursday, the National Security Agency has been collecting the phone records of millions of Verizon customers daily--since April. Worse, an Internet surveillance program called Prism has been collecting millions of bytes of user information and records from Facebook, Google, Apple, Skype, Yahoo!, and more since 2007. While the NSA says data is only collected on foreigners, the Internet is a connected place that erases geographical boundaries. It's hard to believe that absolutely no data on Americans has been collected under this program.
All of the above revelations have come within the past three months. Doubtless, this represents just a small slice of lost freedoms, a taste of what is to come. What we have learned without a doubt since March is that the Obama administration has not rolled back Bush-era restrictions on our cherished freedoms. Rather, in the name of security, Obama has actually increased these restrictions.
In 2008 and 2012, I supported Barack Obama because I believed his slogan: "Change we can believe in." I believed him when he spoke out for due process and against government intrusiveness. Now I am beginning to realize that I was wrong. Like other Americans, I was suckered in by a fiction.
Henry David Thoreau once wrote that, "In unjust times, the proper place for a just person is jail." While all of the above restrictions on our freedom are legal, they are not moral. Thoreau's words remind us of the crucial difference between the two terms.
The government is not above the people, but below it. "We the people" created this government; when it encroaches on our freedoms, it is our constitutional right and duty to encroach on its freedoms--or risk losing not only our freedoms, but also our security, in the name of security. For decades the government has used security concerns--the Nazis, the communists, and now the terrorists--to justify incursions on our freedoms. It is time to stop being suckered in by this decades-old Orwellian ploy. We must fulfill our constitutional duty: to stand up and say "Enough!"
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