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What Price Public Safety?

Posted on the 12 August 2013 by Barrysblogging

When I was a child, my mother was afraid for my safety. As a result, I never received roller skates or a bicycle. I still do not ride a bicycle very well, as I acquired my first one over the age of 40. I still have never been on roller skates or inline skates. I tried to ride a motorcycle and this proved to be a dismal failure. I have paid the price for my safety by not being able to enjoy the privilege of roller skating nor riding a bicycle comfortably, nor a motorcycle. I had no choice in this matter. It was decided by the authority figure in my life at the time.

During the Second World War, our government was concerned about the safety of the homeland, for good reason.  There had been Japanese submarine patrols noted off the coast of California, and even an invasion of Alaska.  This resulted in the US

Government relocating persons of Japanese descent living in the western states into internment camps (our form of “concentration camps” by another name) in the Arizona desert. This abridgement of their freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights was enacted in the name of safety for the country in a time of war. Today, as we look back on this episode, we are ashamed of our actions because we imprisoned an entire population of our citizenry for fear of a few who might have betrayed us.

In the early years of the last century, the police acted with much less restriction than they can today.  We have passed laws to protect us from police power in order to

police excess
protect us from their going beyond the law in doing their job. Many of us are familiar with the Miranda decision which mandates that police inform a suspect of his or her rights to legal counsel before saying something that is protected by the Fifth Amendment right against self incrimination.  This is one example of the protections against police power enacted in the latter part of the last century. There is little doubt in the minds of the police that it has made their job more difficult.  Yet they have managed to work within these confines and still can complete the gathering of information to convict persons guilty of wrongdoing. And the laws that were passed to protect us from unlimited police power have not stopped them from doing their work.

Recently, Edward Snowden, knowing he was putting himself at great risk, revealed what appeared to him to be widespread excesses of NSA intrusion into the privacy of US citizens with the approval of the FISA Courts under provisions of the Patriot Act. Our governors, from the President to members of congress have held meetings with the Chief of the NSA who has convinced them that what they have done has made their job of protecting our public safety much easier. I am sure that it made my mother more secure that I safe from injury without experiencing roller skating, nor bicycle riding.  But my freedoms were abrogated, and I suffer the consequences to this day. It is possible that we were protected from some espionage by the mass imprisonment of the Japanese descendant US citizenry during World War II, but we compromised the freedoms of countless innocent people who should have been protected from the excesses of Government.

The NSA does not have the right to look at our emails and those of all of our email contacts and all of their contacts as well, simply because one of our emails may contain some suspicious word or name. Does this focused attention make their job easier? Doubtless, but that is not a good reason for us as a population to allow them to ignore the Fourth Amendment protections against search and seizure without due process, any more than it allows the police to obtain a confession without informing a suspect of their rights under the Fifth Amendment. Our President and our Congress are failing to protect Public Safety against government intrusion without due process. Our Founding Fathers included the Bill of Rights because they had experienced the excesses of Government intrusion under the Governor appointed by King George.  We must protect our rights against the potential for an increasingly oppressive government justified by the Patriot Act and its interpretation by the courts. We cannot
make the same mistakes we have made in the past. We cannot afford to give up our protections against the government that we live with every day any more than we could afford to live with excesses of police power, for fear of a potential future intrusion by a foreign power.

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