In Defense Of Civil Liberties

In 2011, I re-posted a ten-year-old column I wrote about my experiences in Washington  during 9/11.  Given the new revelations of government spying on the citizenry, my worries about civil liberties are unabated. Here is that re-posting from 2011.

I was touring the White House with my wife and youngest daughter on Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists began crashing planes. I chronicled my experiences for Isthmus, where I was editor. Liberty was on my mind. I wrote:

For anyone who loves civil liberties, these are scary times. Our Fourth Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure has already been compromised by 30 years of deprecations from the War on Drugs and past terrorism scares. Check your civil liberties at the metal detector. The palpable horror of the Sept. 11 assault will only create a greater demand for the authorities to control and command our lives.

But absolute security and a free society are incompatible. Our liberty is threatened as much by a thousand pinpricks to our privacy and free movement as it is by a terrorist’s bomb.

You can read the column here. Readers hated it. You can read their imprecations here. I responded:

 One of the defining characteristics of Americans is an unabashed belief in personal liberty (the wildly radical “pursuit of happiness” proclaimed by Jefferson). Beginning with the oppressive Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798, history shows that the most frontal assaults on liberty occur during times of national emergency. I offer no apology for sticking up for civil liberties.

Of course, the terrorism of Sept. 11 was a hellish, fiendish deed. A thousand writers have said it better than I ever could. My comments were deliberately confined to my firsthand observations, small and large, about security in Washington before and during the Pentagon bombing and how civil liberties may suffer in the aftermath. That’s it. I offered no profundities. My modest contribution is as a guy who’s already bothered by the excessive security measures of our age. My fear is that things will get worse — our privacy will shrink, our autonomy will be curtailed. All in the name of protecting us.


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