It is an either/or case. We can’t have our individual freedoms with Government looking over our shoulders all the time.
To be sure, whenever men form a social compact led by a consensual government, we give up a small measure of our freedoms to that government to enable it to help us protect our freedoms. This protection includes protecting for us that component of our freedom given over to our government for the purpose. But that’s voluntary at the time of the compact’s formation, and it does not authorize the consensual government to arrogate ever more of our liberties—or of our responsibilities—to itself on its claimed need.
When Government does such usurping, even “for the greater good” (how Benthamite is that?), that can only come at the direct expense of individual liberty. After a very low threshold, the trade-off becomes a zero-sum game.
“Surveillance” foiled a train plot, says an intel official. I’ll elide here the questionable circumstances of this claim by a carefully anonymous official.*
Tim Murphy, a former No. 2 official at the FBI, says the programs [emphasis added]
have been successful in connecting the dots [to prevent attacks]. I can positively say, because of programs like this, people were identified in this country with terrorist ties, and we were able to stop possible attacks[.]
(Never mind that this logic is invalid, in the minds of many, when used to argue against gun control laws.)
On the other hand, alert citizens foiled a bomb plot in New York City. Courageous citizens foiled an airliner-as-bomb attack on the White House. Incompetence foiled an airliner bomb plot over Detroit.
We’ve also seen, further, that “surveillance” has been used to make direct attacks on individual Americans and groups who disagree with the present administration. “Surveillance” has been used to directly and overtly attack our free press and individual members of that facility. “Surveillance” also has been used to turn over personal information of American individuals and groups to foreign countries—even when the citizens or groups are wholly unrelated to the subject of the…investigation…but are simply caught in the Government’s generalized dragnet:
[T]he British government has also been secretly gathering intelligence from US Internet companies via the US National Security Agency data-mining project.
President Barack Obama has insisted this broad surveillance isn’t Big Brother in action, but then he said,
[T]he modest encroachments on privacy that are involved in getting phone numbers and duration without a name attached and not looking at content, that on net it was worth us doing[.]
Phone numbers without names is an utterly disingenuous claim to make. It’s child’s play to attach a name to a number after the number has been collected. See White Pages, for instance, and Get Human, and Spokeo. Those are just some of the publicly available sources.
Next, how do we know Government isn’t “looking at content?” The process is secret. Further, we know Government is looking at content through PRISM; that’s the purpose of that blanket surveillance.
As even The New York Times is beginning to figure out,
The administration has now lost all credibility on this issue.
With the demonstrated dishonesty of the present administration (in truth, the dishonesty isn’t unique to this administration—which emphasizes the danger—this one’s transgressions are just the present and most publicized ones), how is it possible to accept Government assurances of “trust us?”
James Clapper, Director of National Intelligence, who declassified information about the programs this past week so he could defend their use, warned: “Discussing programs like this publicly will have an impact on the behavior of our adversaries and make it more difficult for us to understand their intentions.”
That’s certainly a risk we run in an open, and so free, society. The obverse, however, of keeping such invasive programs secret and away from the public’s discourse is a far more terrible risk to our security.
Again: there is no balancing our individual liberties with our security. Additionally, the Constitution doesn’t protect our liberties “except when Government asserts a greater need.” We have no security without our liberties. There is a need for surveillance, under certain closely specified conditions; however, there cannot be surveillance and freedom under Obama’s cynical “trust us” conditions.
* This official is behaving suspiciously along two dimensions: he’s making a “trust government” claim, and he’s saying “trust me” while telling us things he’s not authorized to tell us. On what basis do we believe him?