Thursday, December 11, 2008

The Price of Security?

(This is an excerpt of something I wrote in 2005 -which supports elements of the civil liberties post below)

“As the price of security, Americans must be prepared to cashier some freedoms, much treasure, and many lives.” These words were published in the United States Naval Institute Journal in 2001. The author continued, “Anticipating retaliation to current military actions, the West must be prepared to institutionalize a passport society, suffer racial profiling, federalize security for airlines, expand search and seizure, and permit extremes in the interrogation of suspected terrorists. Later, it may be necessary to militarize labor, the borders, and civil society in general, and to practice armed retaliation against suspected terrorists and their safe havens.” It is hard to imagine these things taking place in America, yet the pieces are in place for at least four of those things. Search and seizure has been expanded under the Patriot Act. No warrant is necessary now.

The Supreme Court, in the landmark case Terry v. Ohio, (1968), ruled that law enforcement officials could stop someone as long as their was reasonable suspicion that criminal activity is taking place. From this ruling, the concept of racial profiling arose. These ‘objective’ stops were being targeted at disproportionate numbers of black and brown people. When investigating the 9/11 attacks in the days that followed, law enforcement could not deny the fact that the crime was committed by men of middle-eastern descent. The prime suspects, therefore, were individuals with a specific national origin and ethnic background. Later, the religion (Islam) was a factor used to narrow the search.

Has the United States permitted extremes in investigating suspected terrorists? The release of the “torture memos” in 2004 is ample evidence that the government overlooked known torturous activity taking place in Iraq, Afghanistan, and at Guantanomo Bay. Harvard’s champion for human rights, Allen Dershowitz proposed a “torture warrant”. He argued that when you have the lives of millions on the line and a terrorist in custody that could prevent it, then torture becomes a matter of law. We have to choose the “lesser evil”, he says.

Are we moving toward a passport society? First consider the history of our I.D. cards. Driver’s licenses were originally intended to prove mental and physical capacity to drive. Now they are used as a definite form of identification. Social Security numbers were intended to provide access to a government sponsored retirement system. Now you have to have one to conduct banking activities, rent an apartment, and file taxes.

In the wake of 9/11, Oracle’s Larry Ellison, along with Dershowitz, proposed a national
I.D. card required for travel from state to state. Ellison even offered to manufacture the cards for the government. These I.D. cards would be called a ‘smart card’. An identification card with a small computer chip embedded in it. This chip would contain your financial information, medical records, criminal history, and even have a stored value used to replace paper currency. These systems are beginning to be put in place in the UK and other European countries.


That was April 2005. Now we have xray body searches at airports, congress voting on a national id act, and the 'torture memos' I alluded to turning into a full blown national debate.

No comments: