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Freedom from/or terror

Ever since September 11, 2001, we have wrestled with the issue of how much of our freedom we are willing to give up in the name of keeping ourselves safe.  This is a fundamental issue for every society.  This isn't a recent phenomenon.  Abe Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War.  The US (and Canada) interred Japanese civilians during World War II.  So, there was plenty of precedent for the Bush Administration to also suspend habeas corpus and to push for passage of the USA PATRIOT Act.

I recently saw two news articles which got me to think about this issue again.  First, we learn that antiwar protest groups were initially put on the list of terrorist threats, and then President Bush gave in to use the FISA court to obtain wiretaps on potential threats.

The tracking of antiwar protest groups as potential terrorist threats has been stopped, or so we're told.  Who knows what other types of tracking and information gathering is continuing?  Our fundamental right is our freedom of expression.  We should all rejoice in this and protect it dearly.  Who knows if the government is keeping track of this blog posting as it is negative about the Bush administration?  I'm not willing to give up on our freedom of expression in the name of safety.  We are in much more danger if we fear for what we say or who we meet with.  We need a government that values our society's freedoms, too.  I recently saw Good Night and Good Luck on DVD.  It's chilling to see how people feared the McCarthy hearings and how that changed people's day to day interactions.  The country was much weaker because of this, and thank goodness McCarthy was discredited and the witch hunt ended.  Hopefully with the Democratic Congress the tide has turned on the government's ability to quell our right of free expression.  But, I don't think that this issue is dead by any means.

The privacy issue is equally important, but more complicated.  First, with today's digital economy, we have all voluntarily given up a lot of private information, leaving us suceptible to identity theft and tracking.  You have to be very vigilent to keep your personal information under control.  There are probably some business opportunities in developing products and services which help consumers in this area.  The government also needs to refrain from gathering and tracking our private information, unless they have a warrant due to probably cause.  Some sort of check and balance system is needed, and the FISA court never seemed to be an obstacle to wiretapping potential threats before.  To me, the argument here was much more about flexing Presidential muscles and changing the balance of power rather than getting wiretap warrants fast enough.  There was already a provision in FISA to wiretap first and get the warrant immediately afterwards.  How much faster response did they need?

Terrorism is scary, and we live in a world where there are real threats.  But, isn't the compromising of our fundamental rights even scarier?  I don't think we need to choose between Freedom or Terror in order to have Freedom from Terror.  In fact, our freedom should be a beacon to counteract the negative images of us that some of our terrorist enamies use to recruit new members.


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