Many of the anti-terrorism methods being attacked by civil libertarians involve new methods and areas of communication never addressed nor contemplated by the Constitution or Congress. Claims that our freedoms are gradually being eroded by the government’s attempts to deal with terrorism are inaccurate since these new areas had never been established as constitutional rights for those accused of terrorist activity. Cell phones have only come into existence in recent years. Torture has only become broadly defined in recent years, so attempting to claim that certain interrogation measures are “unconstitutional” is nothing more than another attempt to broaden what defines “torture.” Congress has passed laws attempting to reconcile changing technologies with the Fourth Amendment’s vague general protection against “unreasonable” searches and seizures – emphasis on unreasonable. Left-leaning civil liberties activists seem to forget the word “unreasonable” in their efforts to apply the Fourth Amendment to new Congressional law in these areas.
In the legal arena generally, there are myriads of exceptions to judicially-carved out Fourth Amendment rights. For example, there is no absolute right to be free of wiretapping regardless of who you are, there is always some way to get an emergency order authorizing one.
Civil liberties activists contend that the government will abuse its power through surveillance programs, and so they demand that any surveillance authorized have a proven link between the suspect being monitored and terrorist activity or organizations. While this sounds good in theory, it does not take into account the fact that terrorists deliberately try to avoid scrutiny by disguising overt connections through the use of third parties and misleading names.
Another criticism of left wing civil liberties activists is that the surveillance is authorized to search communications within the U.S., not just overseas. Again, this doesn’t take into account reality, which is that many terrorists are now operating within the U.S. as sleeper cells, and others have friendly enablers in the U.S. helping them coordinate their attacks. All of the 9-11 hijackers were in the U.S.
A better approach would be give the laws on terrorism as drafted by Congress a chance, and then if an abuse does occur, where the government spies on someone with no connections to terrorism, revisit the law and determine what changes should be made to prevent those abuses. There will always be areas where the government can overreach, we can never get rid of the possibility of human error in any area ever. It’s simply not possible to eliminate this variable. So to proactively restrict the government’s power in this arena beyond current limitations would seriously cripple the ability of the government to protect us from terrorists. As long as the U.S. is the freest democracy in the world, there is little chance that our government is going to turn against its citizens and spy on them. As long as we have free elections and are electing free market, pro-democracy leaders, these kinds of abuses are unlikely and would be an exception should they occur.
When critics say that terrorist prevention “weakens our civil liberties,” what do they mean? It means in that person’s opinion, any laws being drafted to address the new technologies and methods involved in terrorism should allow the government very little latitude to stop terrorism, and an activist court needs to declare in an official sounding manner using plenty of legalese that there is a correlation between greatly restricting government’s ability to stop terrorism and the vague phrases “protecting your constitutional rights” and “civil liberties.”
It is good that we have watchdog groups looking out for our rights and liberties. But their interest in determining what constitutes “rights” needs to be balanced against the interests of Americans who are entitled to life, liberty and happiness as provided by the Declaration of Independence. Failing to take precautions to prevent another 9-11 due to politically correct notions about terrorists’ “rights” tramples on the rights of innocent Americans.