Since the terrorist attacks of 9/11, we have witnessed a frightening trend in which we Americans have been willing to exchange our constitutionally protected freedoms for supposed improvements to our security. The Patriot Act and its ramifications, since enacted by President Bush, is a case in point.
For much of my nearly 19 years in Venezuela, my only source of news about the United States was the little bit of superficial coverage provided by CNN Español. I usually didn’t pay much attention to it. But after the attacks of September 11, 2011, I was glued to CNN Español for weeks. I remember when Bush announced the Patriot Act saying we would have to give up some of our constitutional rights so that the government could do a better job of protecting America from any future terrorist attacks. I remember feeling sick to my stomach as I explained to my Venezuelan family that out of fear of terrorism Americans had given up some of their very important freedoms.
Under the Obama administration, we have seen further attacks on our freedoms, especially the right to free speech, in their attempts to put in place again the Fairness Doctrine and their efforts to control wide band access to the Internet and their Net Neutrality Law. This, my friends, is a very dangerous trend we are seeing. It is a very slippery slope for a freedom loving people to be standing on. Where will we draw the line? Have we already crossed that line?
I submit to you that something very serious happened recently in San Francisco that should put the fear of God in all freedom loving Americans. It seems that the transit police of the Bay Area Rapid Transit (BART) system had recently fatally shot a 45 year old man. Because they feared that there might be some violent demonstration against the shooting, BART officials decided to cut off underground cellphone service for a few hours at several stations Thursday to prevent potential demonstrators from using the Internet to organize any such demonstrations. Fox News has the story.
Now, you might say that the BART officials were only being prudent and were only interested in protecting all transit system users so what they did was okay. But friends, as I said, this is a very slippery slope. Here is what Loyola Law School professor had to say:
“We can arrest and prosecute people for the crimes they commit,” he said. “You are not allowed to shut down people’s cellphones and prevent them from speaking because you think they might commit a crime in the future.”
And the ACLU agreed:
Michael Risher, the American Civil Liberty Union’s Northern California staff attorney, echoed the sentiment in a blog: “The government shouldn’t be in the business of cutting off the free flow of information. Shutting down access to mobile phones is the wrong response to political protests, whether it’s halfway around the world or right here in San Francisco.”
Do you see that suspending our constitutional rights to prevent a perceived future crime is a very dangerous president? What if it were the Federal government that decided to something similar nation wide? You think that could never happen? Well take a look at this from the same Fox News article:
Similar questions of censorship have arisen in recent days as Britain’s government put the idea of curbing social media services on the table in response to several nights of widespread looting and violence in London and other English cities. Police claim that young criminals used Twitter and Blackberry instant messages to coordinate looting sprees in riots.
Prime Minister David Cameron said that the government, spy agencies and the communications industry are looking at whether there should be limits on the use of social media sites like Twitter and Facebook or services like BlackBerry Messenger to spread disorder. The suggestions have met with outrage — with some critics comparing Cameron to the despots ousted during the Arab Spring.
Many are predicting that the violent demonstrations that we have seen spread across Europe will soon come to our shores. Would the Obama administration consider the same drastic steps that Prime Minister David Cameron is now considering under similar circumstances here in America?
Folks, I think it is time that issue of freedom vs. security raises to the forefront of public debate. To that end, I would very much like to hear your responses to the following questions:
- How do you feel about the Patriot Act? A month or two ago it was re-authorized for four more years with bipartisan support in Congress and very little debate. Do you think the Patriot Act should be the subject of public debate?
- Where do you draw the line on the issue of freedom vs. security? And, how do we measure any gains or improvements in our security or is it nothing more than perception?
- What do you think about the action taken by the authorities of BART ? Do you think this is an example of government over-reach?
- Like Prime Minister Cameron, do you think President Obama would use the spread of violent demonstrations in America as an excuse to shut down or otherwise take control of the Internet?
Well, that’s what I’m thinking. What are your thoughts?