Safety vs. Civil Rights

Aquarian Weekly 2/5/03 REALITY CHECK


What is currently being argued in federal court regarding the extended rights of law enforcement to spy on private citizens suspected of terrorist activity is one of the thorny issues riding the fumes of 9/11. As discussed in great length in this space for the past year, many of these obligatory proposals to tweak civil liberties in the guise of homeland security teeter on the illegal while occasionally slipping into the realm of laughable.

Of course the NYPD, the defendant in the case, will argue it is nearly impossible to keep tabs on the myriad of covert comings and goings of its citizenry in respect to approaching anything close to what the community might deem safe.

Certainly, it is the job of the blue line to crave greater access to our privacy. It makes the job easier and puts the populace at greater responsibility for its own protection.

But does it equate to increased safety or some wildly paranoid notion of control?

Forget the legal aspects of this case for a moment. Ignore your constitutional rights. Try and erase that eerie feeling that you are being watched and let’s get real for a second here.

Are you still willing to hold up “interpretation” of your activities as a good enough reason for the authorities to keep tabs on you?

Would you feel safer if the cops knew every move of every person in your neighborhood?


I could swear I saw the unmistakable glow of plutonium coming from my neighbor’s basement window.

But be that as it may, defining what constitutes “sufficient cause” to plot a terrorist attack and officials “suspecting an individual of potentially plotting” a terrorist attack is the rub.

Huge rub.

NYPD lawyer, Gail Donahue was recently quoted as saying the rub lies not in the “sufficient cause” vs. “merely suspecting” argument, but what he describes as the “covert issue”. In other words, the very nature of covert actions on the part of terrorist groups makes any activity a probable crime.

What’s the difference between “covert” and “private”? And as with much of the vagaries of human perception; “suspecting” is in the eye of the beholder.

This falls into the messy category of absolute power, which leads to the wildly popular possibility for corruption. Once the police or the government has the right to keep tabs on your e-mail, correspondence, phone conversations or even your house by playing a hunch, what’s to stop them from interpreting this law?

Machines will not be “suspecting” your activities, humans will be doing that; emotional, subjective humans.

There is no exact science here.

Are you still willing to hold up “interpretation” of your activities as a good enough reason for the authorities to keep tabs on you?

Suppose your answer to that question is “yes”.

I am sadly reminded of the National Football League’s fucked up replay system. Ostensibly it is used to make sure the call made in the heat of battle by flawed officials is correct. But not all calls fall under the jurisdiction of the rules. Many are based on happenstance, like an errant whistle having blown the play dead, the unique perspective of the official who made the call, or the judgmental aspect of the call itself. What one official sees as an infraction, another sees entirely differently.In these cases the system is rendered impotent.

In short, the technological watchdog approach should make the game fairer, but in reality redefines the game’s organic exorcise to a series of blundered misinterpretations.

Okay, now forget the banal pro football reference, firstly because it was stupid, but mostly because at least it’s a reactionary device. What this court case involves is the instinct of the police force. Handing over the rights of a government tool to spark some half-assed mission to turn your life upside down on a series of intuitions.

Hopefully not the same intuition that had confused cops blasting away at kids with cell phones.

Anyone supporting these increased surveillance bills predictably use the argument that without securing the public’s safety, there can be none of the freedoms the ACLU is always railing about. In other words, if you cannot give up one or two freedoms for the safety of the community, you are a selfish first and fourth amendment whiner thinking with your politics and not your common sense.

Specious as that argument is, it nonetheless speaks to our primal urge to survive. You know, “Fuck it. Let everyone know my business. I don’t want to go to work one day and end up having my name slapped on a memorial plaque or referenced during a State of the Union address. I want to live, damn it! And I don’t care what the cost.”

Either side you fall on in this equation, pay attention to the final verdict due in February. And if freedoms are compromised based on fear than you’d better straighten up and fly right.

One thing no one can debate is that human instinct has led to some heinous shit.

Let’s hope you aren’t the next casualty all in the name of blessed security.

Me? I don’t care. I’m on everyone’s must-watch list. This is what I get for allowing people to air their views on my web site.

I might have to secede from the union.

Stay tuned.

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