How much personal liberty must be lost to ensure the protection of our freedoms as a nation?
There have been several times in our nation’s history when our government has infringed upon the individual rights of the people in order to better protect the ‘greater good.’ These incidents have all given rise to the idea of liberty vs. security; a debate that rages on concerning whether or not the protection of a people as a whole is worth the eradication of individual rights. Some people argue that personal rights should fall victim to the protection of the collective people, while others claim that personal rights should be maintained no matter what. One key example of the government ignoring constitutional rights and focusing on the protection of the nation that hits close to home for today’s generation, is the patriot act. The patriot act was a post 9/11 act that gave the government the right to randomly screen phone calls, access private e-mail accounts, and get their hands on private financial records. The idea behind the act was that it would stamp out internal terrorism, but in the end it simply led to a lot of angry citizens. Many claim that the act was a good thing, and that a little sacrifice of privacy was worth stopping terrorism, but most saw the act as a fruitless vacillation of rights. The patriot act is, by all means, a prime example of how liberty is far more important than security, and why our government should not be allowed to ignore personal rights for any reason.
Cell phones, home phones, pay phones – the average American makes 5 to 10 phone calls every day. When we are on the phone, we feel as if we can have a one on one, private conversation with someone, even if they are hundreds of miles away. The patriot act did away with this sense of security. The act gave the government the right to listen in on random phone calls. The idea was that a random screening of calls may eventually yield the location of a terrorist organization. Some people agree that phone tapping was a good idea, and were willing to give up their privacy in the hopes of ending terrorism. They claimed that if you have nothing to hide, then you have nothing to worry about. But this argument does not justify the government’s actions. Privacy is a right of the American people, and arbitrary searches of random citizens in the hopes of perhaps finding previously unknown terrorist factions hardly warrants the removal of this right. We shouldn’t have to worry that big brother is listening every time we make a phone call. It doesn’t matter if the phone call is as trivial as saying hi to an old friend or as serious as a doctor informing a patient that the cancer test came back positive – rights are rights, and they should not be ignored. The fact that the government thought, if even for a moment, that randomly listening to phone calls could stop terrorism, is ridiculous. A five year old could think of more effective methods that would not jeopardize our rights as citizens, which just goes to show that many times, when security takes precedence over liberty, the ends hardly justify the means.
The patriot act was not simply made to give the government the rights to screen phone calls; it also gave our nation’s leaders the right to access private email accounts. The arguments surrounding this aspect of the act are very similar to the arguments concerning phone taps, with the supporters claiming that those with nothing to hide shouldn’t be afraid, and the nay-sayers crying for out government to have some morals. It comes down to a matter of principles. It doesn’t matter if you inbox is full of nothing but innocent chain mail and spam – the government should have no right to read it. This aspect of the patriot is also foolish because, much like the phone taps, the odds of actually finding a terrorist cell via randomly reading emails are slim to none. No self-respecting, anti-American activist would ever organize a terrorist strike through Yahoo! Mail. It is truly hard to comprehend that our government could be so stupid so as to think that reading a private citizen’s emails could help stop the world trade center from being destroyed. Yet again, the means do not justify the end.
A final aspect of the patriot act, and one that actually made for some sensical arguments by the pro-security people of the nation, is the government’s right to access the financial and medical records of private citizens. This time the argument was that if the government has the ability to study the monetary and medical aspects of the people of the United States, some anomalies may stand out. Some strange spending habits or odd medical charges may lead to the finding of a terrorist organization, yes. The odds are still slim at best, but at least there are odds, unlike random phone taps and email screening. But for a third time it is clear that the means simply do not justify the end. The people of our nation should not be questioned by the government for buying a firearm on credit or for going to the hospital as the result of an explosion. As previously stated, there are some ways, admittedly, in which this aspect of the patriot act could uncover some terrorist activity – but finding one terrorist does not justify destroying the rights of thousands.
Overall, it is clear that the patriot act is unnecessary, unwarranted, and far from beneficial. People will argue that it did some good, but they argue a baseless point. Randomly screening calls? Randomly reading emails? Randomly studying people’s buying and spending habits? None of it screams anti-terrorism. The patriot act is a microcosm for the liberty vs. security debate- it embodies both arguments concerning the subject, it exemplifies our government’s tendency to give personal rights to the need for security, and, most of all, it goes to show that our rights should never be subject to removal simply because the government wants to attempt to protect us as citizens.