Value freedom over security
As I rode the H bus back to my cozy little room on Busch campus Tuesday afternoon, I came across a column in The Daily Targum, titled “Surveillance benefits U.”
The author’s argument was rather well-put, but I must contend that he is utterly wrong. I don’t mean to slight him, but his argument is nothing short of terrifying.
How, under the Constitution of the United States, can the New York Police Department’s spying on Muslim student organizations throughout the Northeast be considered reasonable, let alone be applauded or expanded?
Well, like the author believes these practices should be expanded, I believe we must expand this argument to include our government’s recent behavior to do just that.
There are a slew of bills that have been proposed, considered and even passed as of late that seek to undermine your constitutional rights. Take, for example, HR 1540 – better known as the National Defense Authorization Act. Signed into law by President Barack Obama on New Year’s Day, the NDAA authorizes the indefinite detention of American citizens without the right to a lawyer and prosecution by military tribunal.
It’s hard to imagine that sort of bill passing in a country that supposedly values liberty, but the sad truth is that it’s only the tip of the iceberg. The Patriot Act, signed into law following the Sept. 11 attacks is anything but patriotic. The federal government was authorized to carry out widespread wiretappings and “delayed notice” warrants for federal searches of American homes.
With only these two bills under our belt, the system of checks and balances begins to erode. The executive branch of government is now given widespread power to invade our privacy and imprison indefinitely. The laughable part of it is that it’s all considered “for our safety,” and speaking out against it is often called unpatriotic.
Opposing these measures, by no stretch of the imagination, makes someone unpatriotic. Allowing them to go completely unchecked and unnoticed is crippling to the American definition of freedom.
So, what would our exalted founding fathers — whom countless politicians claim to represent — have to say about this sort of thing?
Well, James Madison, my personal favorite, once said, “If tyranny and oppression come to this land, it will be under the guise of fighting a foreign enemy.”
While we allow our legislative and executive branches to claim that these measures are to combat terrorism, we enable a dangerous precedent that also dismantles the building blocks of freedom provided for in the Bill of Rights.
Another nasty little bit of legislation to pop out of our horrible idea factory — a Congress with a 13 percent approval rating, according to an ABC News/Washington Post poll — is HR 347. This resolution was passed with language that now makes political protest illegal whenever an official with a U.S. Secret Service detail is present in the area of the protest. But wait, there’s more. Even if the protesters are unaware of that official is present, it remains a felony to protest.
Interesting side note: Republican presidential candidates Mitt Romney, Rick Santorum and Newt Gingrich all picked up Secret Service details the next day, which was reported on CNN during one of the GOP debates. There’s other legislation, like the Stop Online Piracy Act or HR 3261. Some failed, some are still churning their way through Congress — I won’t include all of them here, but I encourage you to look them up.
I now find myself in the position of relating all of this back to my original point of contention that the author of Tuesday’s column is wrong. These surveillance practices are but a drop in the bucket of our government’s push against our rights, prescribed in the Constitution, to the liberty that America offers.
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” We are now at that tipping point in this country, where the federal government tells us to give up our rights for “our own safety” (I am reminded of the signs at campus bus stops) in the war on terrorism. To allow these types of surveillances — whether it be targeted to one group in particular or spread to any individual who can be deemed a “radical,” as the author puts it — is an affront to freedom and of blatant ignorance to the Constitution.
I believe the legislation I’ve discussed, along with the author’s idea that we should expand these criminal surveillance programs, illustrates very well the tentacles of big government that continually seek to penetrate further into our private lives.
Don’t be afraid to stand up and say that these attacks on American civil rights are unacceptable. Dissent is patriotic — question everything, use your voice.
Adam Uzialko is a School of Arts and Sciences sophomore. He is a correspondent at The Daily Targum.