The comments to my article on privacy in the Internet age very much mirrored the debate taking place in the courts. Many of you wrote that if we aren't committing wrongdoing, we have no need to fear government surveillance. Others wrote that we should be more wary of governments, as they aren't always so benign.
Privacy rights are an issue that engages two major axles of conservative thought: executive privilege in national security matters and small government. I imagine that any solution will be a compromise, so let's hope this doesn't paralyze our Congress.
Dan Daugherty of Austin, Texas, writes:
For years, we've been turning our heads and allowing law enforcement way too much leeway on fishing expeditions because we trust them only to use that power against the bad guys. Up to now, we tolerate draconian laws because by and large we are safe in our privacy and never believe we'll be caught at the wrong end of them. Now, unless some really clever legal mechanisms are put in place, the shown-to-be-untrustworthy government is going to snag a lot of us non-terrorists in its nets while it fishes for terrorists.
SRE: That's a great point Dan. Police intrusion is not a major issue for middle and upper-class white Americans. We will see if these new practices make it an issue.
Justin Skywatcher writes:
There is always the seemingly sound assertion that "Who but criminals would care if the government knew what they were doing?" This is based on two unsound assumptions; first that the government is benign. Ours is, pretty much, right now. But imagine the current technology in the hands of a Hitler or Stalin. We must not forget that a government can go bad overnight, literally. The second assumption is that all government employees are trustworthy. This is far more to be wished for than realized. Imagine the government employee hunting down his ex-girlfriend. Or one who wants to harass someone he just does not like. Or one who wishes to encumber the activities of those of political parties he does not like. The current tools and philosophy are not conducive to continued freedom in the U.S.
SRE: I agree, thanks for your thoughts.
L. Warner writes:
I, for one, have no problem with surveillance or privacy invasion from the government. I do have a problem with Democrats always wanting wiretapping, etc., stopped. I also have a huge problem with terrorism and hope they can control by whatever means they can implement. Most law abiding citizens have nothing to fear or hide!
SRE: Thank you, although I think we need to strike a balance somewhere. We do have an interest in preventing terrorist attacks, but we want to prevent persecution of politically unpopular groups.
Unlike the spirited debate sparked by my surveillance column, there was almost unanimous agreement that I mischaracterized Mitt Romney's attack on Rudy Giuliani.
H. D. Yoder writes:
Shocking!!! The Republicans are arguing over — gasp! — the issues!!! Unbelievable! They need to engage in civilized discourse, unlike the Democrats calling each other liars?
SRE: I don't believe framing the issues as "pro-abortion, pro-gay marriage and anti-gun" does anything to engage debate. I'd call it name-calling using politically loaded terms.
Aaron Turner writes:
You don't seem to understand the difference between disagreeing on issues and personal attack. It is one thing to state what a person's position is and then disagree with it. It is another thing to attack a person's character.
SRE: Thanks Aaron. I think we'd both agree that those are loaded terms for what many consider moral issues. Regardless, I think criticisms of Giuliani's "moral" positions will become much more scathing.
Susan Estrich is currently the Robert Kingsley Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of Southern California and a member of the Board of Contributors of USA Today. She writes the "Portia" column for American Lawyer Media and is a contributing editor of The Los Angeles Times. She was appointed by the president to serve on the National Holocaust Council and by the mayor of the City of Los Angeles to serve on that city's Ethics Commission.
A woman of firsts, she was the first woman president of the Harvard Law Review and the first woman to head a national presidential campaign (Dukakis). Estrich is committed to paving the way for women to assume positions of leadership.
Books by Estrich include "Real Rape," "Getting Away with Murder: How Politics is Destroying the Criminal Justice System" and "Dealing with Dangerous Offenders." Her book "Making the Case for Yourself: A Diet Book for Smart Women," is a departure from her other works, encouraging women to take care of themselves by engaging the mind to fight for a healthy body. Her latest book, The Los Angeles Times bestseller, "Sex & Power," takes an impassioned look at the division of power between men and women in the American workforce, proving that the idea of gender equality is still just an idea.