Patrick is almost exactly wrong about The-Government-Has-Been-Collecting-Information-On-All-Our-Phone-Calls-gate:
Look, people, you don’t want this stuff going on any more?
Look up your Congressional representatives’ voting records and act accordingly.
Your Facebook memes are useless.
Actually, your Facebook memes are probably the only useful thing you can do.
Radley Balko tells us what we should already know: what the Fourth Amendment (and, indeed, much Bill of Rights) says is immensely unpopular policy both within Congress and among the public.
[I]n early 1995, [a representative named] Watt introduced the following amendment to [a] bill:
The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.
That of course is the exact language of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The House killed Watt’s amendment by nearly a 3-1 margin.
There have been a number of public opinion polls over the years showing majorities of American opposed to the Bill of Rights when they aren’t told the language they’re being polled about is actually from the Bill of Rights.
The overwhelming majority of Americans have nothing more to say to Congress on this issue than “good job”. Even if a vocal minority were able to kick their representatives out, their replacements would probably be just as opposed to the text of the Fourth Amendment.
If you support civil liberties, you actually want the will of the people to be contravened. The people generally think that the only people who have something to worry about are the ones who have something to hide and that any prospect of crime justifies whatever the government might want. Further, as articulated by Dennis Sanders this morning, civil liberties are perceived as expenses to be continually justified rather than hard constraints that the government must abide by:
Whenever I hear libertarians complain about this, I have to wonder what they think is the proper response when terrorism happens. More often than not, the answer is that such things like 9/11 won’t happen again or the chances of terrorism happening to us are slim. I would agree that a 9/11-style attack was probably a one-shot deal. But in the years following 9/11 we have had other smaller scale threats such as the Christmas Day attempt to blow up an airliner over the skies of Detroit, or the guy that wanted to set off a car bomb in Times Square and of course, the Boston Marathon bombings. So, how does government best respond to these threats? How do we try to protect the American people and yet uphold the ideals we cherish? How do we keep the balance?
Facts about Dennis’s concerns:
- They put the onus on civil libertarians to justify why the rights they care about matter, with the implication that if the answer is not convincing, then the only practical action is to abandon those rights.
- They use any evidence of attempted crime (let alone terrorism) as proof that rights need to be rescinded even among people who have done nothing to merit suspicion. No attempt is made to evaluate the costs of lost rights compared to the direct costs of the crimes to be averted. (If an attempt is made, the costs of the crimes perversely include the very overreactions by the government that civil libertarians argue against.)
- They are well-intentioned and sound totally reasonable to anyone who isn’t a civil libertarian.
If your Facebook memes educate your friends about the importance of privacy even among the law-abiding, they are probably more effective than identifying yourself to Congress as a weirdo who needs to be added to a watch list. A sea change in public opinion must happen first before the government can be reasonably expected to change its tack.