In these days of continuing Homeland Insecurity, a particular saying of Ben Franklin’s has become a potent reminder of the importance of remaining true to freedom in spite of fear: Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.
A recent attempted terrorist attack shows just how little the temporary safety purchased by the surrender of essential American liberties has been. Americans were told last year that passing the FISA Amendments Act was essential, because it would expand government powers to uncover foreign plots to engage in terrorist attacks here in the USA. Never mind that the law would legalize massive government spy networks to listen in on the everyday communications of Americans, in violation of the Fourth Amendment’s guarantee of protection against unreasonable search and seizure. The FISA Amendments Act would keep us safe.
Now, with the attempted attack by Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, it’s been discovered that the FISA Amendments Act has failed to provide an intelligence network that can guarantee American security. The FISA Amendments Act provided huge new powers to intercept foreign communications and domestic American communications alike, but the spying network still failed to detect the Abdulmutallab conspiracy. Intelligence agencies had information about a “Nigerian bomber”, but still weren’t able to identify Abdulmutallab and thwart his efforts at violence.
The FISA Amendments Act is great at gathering details about Americans’ private affairs into giant government databases. It’s not very effective at foiling terrorist attacks. American lives were saved by Abdulmutallab’s clumsy incompetence, not by the FISA Amendments Act. Given that the surveillance networks set up by the FISA Amendments Act are as incompetent at antiterrorism as Abdulmutallab is as terrorism, why can’t we just shut down Big Brother and go back to living in liberty?