Should Americans give up their liberties to fight terrorism? Until the terrorist attack on America, it's doubtful that you would find a majority who would say yes. The attack on America changed everything. An ABC-Washington Post poll taken the day after September 11 found that two out of three Americans were willing to surrender civil liberties to stop terrorism.
Frankly, I find that poll and recent statements by commentators and political leaders distressing. Yet we shouldn't be surprised. In the past, Americans have been all too willing to surrender their liberties to leaders who promised a safer America. Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the Civil War. Franklin Delano Roosevelt sent Japanese-Americans to relocation camps during World War II. But before we start trying to repeal whole sections of the Bill of Rights, I think we need to ask fundamental questions and draw important distinctions.
Common sense safety precautions that do not threaten our basic constitutional liberties should be implemented immediately. This would include tightening airport security and providing for secure airplane cockpits. While many of us might question how effective some of the other precautions might be (patting down 80-year-old grandmothers, banning any parking near airport terminals), at least they do not threaten our constitutional liberties.
But in the rush to provide safety, many leaders have forgotten that the framers of the Constitution wisely provided protections because we are too willing to give up liberties in a time of crisis. Congressman Ron Paul (R-TX) said recently, "Times of tragedy and war naturally bring out strong emotions in all of us. Yet we must be careful to preserve personal liberty and privacy rights in the months ahead. Sometimes the people are only too anxious to sacrifice their constitutional liberties during a crisis, hoping to gain some measure of security. Yet nothing would please the terrorists more than if we willingly gave up some of our cherished liberties because of their actions."
So what can we do? Here are six actions that I believe are acceptable at this time:
There are, however, many suggestions and proposals that I believe we should reject or at least only consider after a long and lengthy debate about their unintended consequences. Here are four unacceptable proposals:
Issuing internal passports has been one of the methods used by communist leaders to control their people. Citizens had to carry these passports at all times and had to present them to authorities if they wanted to travel within the country, live in another part of the country, or apply for a job. Establishing a national ID would most likely place a burden on law-abiding citizens, while terrorists and criminals would merely use phony IDs to perpetrate their crimes.
Terrorists know their messages will be monitored and usually communicate face-to-face or in ways that avoid detection. Meanwhile, law-abiding citizens have their privacy violated in the name of fighting terrorism.
Terrorism poses a real threat to America, but that doesn't mean we have to give up our liberties in order to fight this menace. If we lose our liberties, then the terrorists have already won a victory.