Right meets left on liberty

“My friends, ever since the events of Sept. 11 unfolded, I have cautioned against heeding the voices that call for trading liberty for security.”

—Rush Limbaugh, radio talk show host

“Security and civil liberties do not have to be at odds. We must take action—but we must take appropriate measures that increase our safety while protecting basic freedoms and liberties.”

—Anthony D. Romero, executive director, American Civil Liberties Union

What are Americans willing to sacrifice to retain what’s left of our sense of security? Waiting for hours at the Reno-Tahoe International Airport is a pain, as is a longer walk from the parking lot. But these things, though inconvenient, aren’t a real abridgement of our freedoms.A harsher blow to civil liberties could possibly come from the Bush administration’s proposed anti-terrorist legislation. Many of the provisions don’t seem as geared to fighting terrorism as they do to increasing governmental power. For example, the bill hugely expands the legality of secret searches, not just of suspected terrorists, but of anyone suspected of any criminal offense. No notification necessary.

The government would also have more power to seize the property of anyone accused of a crime—whether or not that person has been convicted, and even if the property had nothing to do with the crime. The feds like your house, car or boat? They can accuse you of smuggling dope—must have been that George Jung haircut—and your stuff becomes the federal government’s stuff.

The proposed legislation gives intelligence agencies more ability to monitor any citizen in the United States. There’s no need for this. The FBI already has authority to monitor telephone and Internet communications of suspected terrorists. In domestic criminal investigations, the government ought to have to justify its use of wiretaps by demonstrating probable cause.

The same goes for business records, which now have similar court protection. The proposed new rules, though, would allow law enforcement officials to access anything with easily obtained subpoenas.

“This is virtually no protection at all,” says an ACLU news release.

Scariest of all is the proposal to give the attorney general the power to arrest any non-citizen based on the most vague of “threats” to national security. That could mean the arrest and/or deportation of someone here legally,a even if that person hasn’t been charged with any immigration violation or terrorist activity.

This is nothing new. The Alien and Sedition Act of 1798 also allowed the deportation of immigrants deemed “dangerous” by feds. (The Act also made it illegal to criticize the government.) And during World War II, a bunch of oh-so “dangerous” Japanese-Americans were rounded up and moved to internment camps.

Both the ACLU and right-wing folks like Rush Limbaugh agree that liberty must not succumb to the terrorist threat.

History doesn’t need to repeat itself. We can learn from our mistakes.

… And liberty and justice for all.