As everyone knows, the federal government has seized upon the September 11 terrorist attacks to expand its power to harass and spy on both immigrants and American citizens. “We must give up some liberty to protect our security,” government supporters often cry in an attempt to justify the federal expansion of power over our lives.
Must liberty be sacrificed or compromised in order to achieve security? Not at all!
A major legitimate purpose of government is to investigate violent crime and bring the wrongdoer to justice. Consider, for example, laws against murder. Most of us would contend that the state should criminalize the wrongful taking of another person’s life, because that conduct involves the coercive interference with another person’s right to live his life.
Thus, when a murder is committed, we want the police to investigate, find the person who committed the crime, and prosecute him for murder.
What we don’t want, however, is for the police to use the murder as an opportunity to begin harassing and spying on everyone in the community in order to ferret out the wrongdoer or in order to prevent others from committing such crimes in the future.
That’s not to say that that sort of thing wouldn’t be successful in ferreting out murderers and prospective murderers. It’s simply to say that we value our freedom, including our privacy, over and above that kind of police-state “security.”
So we say to the police: Investigate who committed the murder and bring him to justice, but leave the rest of us alone.
Consider Timothy McVeigh’s terrorist attack on the federal building in Oklahoma City. Although we can refer to McVeigh as a terrorist, the truth is that what he did was commit murder (along with destroy federal property).
The same holds true for convicted Unabomber terrorist Ted Kaczynski. He murdered and maimed people.
The unfortunate fact is that there are murderers and other anti-social, violent people in every society. The question is: What do we want the state to do about it?
One possible response to that question is for the federal government to begin regulating the flow of travelers between the respective states, with the aim of impeding the ability of terrorists to travel from one state to another to commit their murders. Another possibility would be to permit the police in one state to stop any person from another state and deport him back to his home state. A third possibility would be to grant the police the power to monitor the activities of everyone within their respective state.
Although such steps might ferret out terrorists and murderers, most of us would reject them. Why? Because we place a higher value on liberty than we do on that type of security.
How is a foreign terrorist-murderer any different, in principle, from a domestic terrorist-murderer? Yet while we oppose federal control over our interstate borders and federal harassment and spying on people with respect to domestic terrorist-murderers, we permit to feds to devote untold time and resources to harassing immigrants and spying on Americans with respect to foreign terrorist-murderers.
And has any of this made us safer?
On the contrary, by spreading its efforts and resources over a wide number of people, most of whom are innocent, the federal government has weakened its abilityto do what it should be doing — finding the guilty and bringing them to justice.
Equally important, since the innocent are now much more likely to be swept up inthe federal dragnet, their liberty and security is taken away from them by the federal government in the name of protecting society from terrorism.
If the federal government had treated the September 11 attacks as it did the McVeigh and Kaczynski attacks, all the time and resources that are devoted to harassing immigrants and spying on Americans would instead have been focused solely on investigating and bringing to justice those who committed or conspired to commit the attacks.
By requiring the government to limit itself to doing what it is supposed to do — investigate who committed the crime and then bring the malefactor to justice — and by prohibiting the government from harassing immigrants and spying on Americans, we ensure both freedom and security for our nation.