PRICE OF SAFETY RISES
you feel safer if the cops knew every move of every person in
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
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.
Would you feel safer if the cops knew every move of every person in
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.
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
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
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
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.
© James Campion Feb Ist 2003
(Log and on and buy James's brilliant collection of essays about
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