Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Give me CIVIL liberty or give me Safety

Are Civil Liberties sacrosanct or do they contract or expand depending upon the circumstances (peacetime, wartime)? To say they are sacrosanct would mean they are inalienable, but the Declaration of Independence only uses that adjective to describe natural rights. Those rights come from a transcendent source which is why they are absolute. Civil Liberties, on the other hand, are given to us from the State and thus are man-made. Being man-made, they are susceptible to change.

It follows that during wartime, civil liberties could be restricted for some greater good, say National Security. But what if the restriction of our civil liberties would endanger our God given rights? Indeed, this is the argument the Founders made in the main body of the Declaration as they cited George III’s violations of their ‘chartered’ rights.

It is this latter argument that Civil Libertarians have been making since the Patriot Act has been passed and renewed. Watching the debate above, however, one wonders if their concerns have not been addressed, at least somewhat. Peter Robinson argues that each of the controversial provisions has a safeguard: 1) judicial oversight e.g. FISA Court 2) Legislative oversight e.g. regular reports to Congress 3) sunset provisions (automatic expiration dates).

For Civil Libertarians, that might not be enough. From both videos, it looks like the argument is that it is still too secretive and the Public needs to be in on this. At that point the debate turns on whether secrecy is a necessary quality in a government when dealing with an enemy.

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