The collection of millions of Americans’ phone records by the National Security Agency is a necessary compromise on privacy —but should be monitored to keep it from being abused, renowned civil rights attorney Alan Dershowitz says.
“Even Benjamin Franklin was wrong when he said those who would give up any privacy or rights in the name of security deserved neither. That’s nonsense. That’s hyperbole. That’s extremism,” Dershowitz said in a recent interview for Newsmax.com
“We need to have some compromises. We’ve made compromises over the years.”
Think about this. Examining phone records is the modern equivalent of—from Benjamin Franklin’s time—police entering the house and looking through your drawers or closet.
At issue is not whether the government of a free society sometimes has a right to do this, when investigating violent criminals. At issue is whether the government has a right to do it—without your consent, without even your knowledge. At issue is whether the government has a right to treat a suspected criminal as a criminal, or everyone as a criminal.
To people like Dershowitz, the onus of proof is not on the government, but on the citizen. In other words, if the federal government wishes to look in your closet, in your drawers or in your phone records for whatever it wishes, then it has the right to do so. It’s up to you, the citizen, to argue or prove otherwise.
To suggest or demand, as Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson did, that the government first establish objective reasons for search and seizure in specific cases is, according to people like Alan Dershowitz, “extremism.”
Whenever someone uses the term “extremism,” especially in defense of unrestrained action on the part of government, you had better watch out. They know you’ve got a point they can’t argue, and they’re trying to intimidate you emotionally by using that term.
To a clear (and honest) thinker, the term “extremism” arouses no emotion whatsoever. It’s meaningless.
One can be “extremely” honest. Is that a bad thing? To Dershowitz and people like him, it probably is, in the abstract. But if Dershowitz caught you lying to him, it would be another story. Consistency and integrity would suddenly matter a great deal to him.
The same applies to intelligence, rationality or any other objective virtue. Too much of a good thing? How is that even possible?
By labeling Ben Franklin and other opponents of unlimited government power “extremist,” Dershowitz is basically implying that there’s such a thing as “too much” liberty or “too many” individual rights.
As an alternative, he suggests “compromise.” But exactly how does one compromise on the principle of individual rights?
Let me explain what I mean by individual rights. I’m referring to the absolute right to be free from the initiation of physical force. No entity has a right to impose force on you. No private criminal, and no public entity, such as a government, either.
It may be well and good for Dershowitz to claim, “But you cannot take that to extremes” as Ben Franklin did. But what exactly is the alternative? In both principle and practice, there is no other alternative. You’re either free and sovereign over your own life; or you’re not. You either have an inalienable right not to have your closets, drawers or phone records searched (without an objectively established warrant); or you’re not.
In both Dershowitz’s and Obama’s world, the law is no longer your friend. It’s now up to the whims and preferences of the men and women in charge—you know, the ones with the guns and the armies.
At the present time, it happens to be the Obama Administraton. To those who like everything the Obama Administration does, there’s no problem with this. To those who perhaps dissent or take issue with some of those policies—well, don’t look for any defense from the allegedly brilliant Alan Dershowitz. He considers your individual rights “extremist” hyperbole.
Welcome to the new American normal, now applied to basic things such as search-and-seizure. It just keeps getting better and better, doesn’t it?
In a world without principles of liberty, since those are dismissed as “extremist,” there’s only one principle left: Whatever the guy in charge says and does … goes. Hence, Obama.
When Obama first became a candidate for President, a lot of his supporters cited his opposition to Bush’s questionable advocacy of the Patriot Act, which rationalized some of these abuses in the first place. Why aren’t those Obama supporters up in arms now? Silence. One can only assume they no longer care, and the issue never was one of principle in the first place.
Dershowitz said he believes President Barack Obama’s assertion that the National Security agency is merely monitoring phone numbers and the length of the calls, not the actual content of them.
Talk about rationalization. This is kind of like saying, “The government is checking your closets and your drawers without your consent. It’s only snooping in the top drawer, not the middle or lower drawers; and only your living room closet, not your bedroom ones.”
This is what happens to the thinking of even otherwise intelligent individuals when principle is dropped from discussion and dismissed as extreme and irrelevant.
The American government was originally founded on the absolute principle that each and every individual is sovereign over his or her own life. Yes, it was an extremely radical idea, not just for its time but for all time.
Clearly, it’s still a radical idea today.
Michael J Hurd
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