Ken Connor

Second, "security" is one of the most effective cards bureaucrats play to justify the growth of government. All of us want to be safe, and the first duty of government is to provide for the safety and security of its people. As citizens, however, we must be vigilant to restrain unwarranted encroachments by government on our liberties. Cameras shadowing our every move in public places, wire taps on American citizens, retrieval of phone records on millions of law abiding American citizens—are these actions truly necessary to protect our security? If we want to remain free, we do well to have a high index of suspicion about each and every encroachment on our civil liberties. We should make the government justify each and every action that intrudes on our freedom. We should not just accept the government's explanations at face value. Benjamin Franklin got it right when he stated, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety." Dwight Eisenhower was even more pointed when he said, "If you want total security, go to prison. There you're fed, clothed, given medical care, and so on. The only thing lacking…is freedom." These two men paid a high price to secure our liberty. As beneficiaries of their sacrifices, we should attach no less value to our freedoms than they did.

Third, freedom flourishes in the sunshine. Unwarranted secrecy subverts it. Therefore, claims for the need for secrecy on the part of government should be closely scrutinized. While there are, without a doubt, occasions where secrecy on the part of government is warranted, a healthy skepticism is in order. The "state secrets privilege" has been invoked by government to compel the dismissal of certain lawsuits in order to avoid the revelation of sensitive information. Since the privilege was first recognized by the courts in 1953, it was invoked by the government only 64 times in the 48 years before September 11, 2001. In the last six years however, the Bush Administration has invoked the "state secrets" privilege a record 39 times. This is 5 times the rate of previous administrations!

In a recent case under consideration by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the Deputy Solicitor General, Gregory Garre, argued that the courts ought to immediately dismiss any case when informed by a department of the executive branch that it may endanger state secrets. The court would do well to reject such a position. Judges ought not simply "rubber stamp" decisions of the executive. Our history demonstrates that government will not hesitate to abuse the "state secrets privilege" to conceal wrongdoing by its functionaries. Remember the Pentagon Papers debacle where the government sought to suppress information of illegal government activity by invoking the state secrets privilege? And who can forget the secret surveillance conducted at the direction of F.B.I. Director, J. Edgar Hoover (the government's number one G- man)? The dossiers he maintained as a result of those illegal, but secret, activities were used as part of a blackmail scheme against other government officials to perpetuate his position in office.

So America, be careful what you wish for. Bigger is not always better—especially when it comes to government. As President Ford noted, "A government big enough to give you everything you want, is a government big enough to take from you everything you have."

Ken Connor

Ken Connor is Chairman of the Center for a Just Society in Washington, DC.