Liberty or Safety: the IRS and Eavesdropping

Like many of you, I have been reading about the various government efforts that just don’t feel right: IRS audits, collections of phone logs (of everyone, all the time, when there is no probable cause), eavesdropping in on phone calls, and the like. Increasingly, the government is expanding its powers of surveillance, many of which accelerated after 9-11 and the Patriot Act.

And, didn’t we ask for this? ┬áLet me explain.

I remember the horrific days after the Twin Towers collapsed. The endless calls to find classmates whose offices were in the Ground Zero area. The New York Times profiles of each victim of the terrorist attacks. The sound of F-15 jets flying overhead at night as we vainly tried to block out the noise. The insane anger we all felt and the desire to get “boots on the ground” right away to get revenge.

Back then, most of us were for the war.

Then, a few years later, the war seemed costly and muddled, nation-building in Afghanistan looked impossible, and many of us wanted to end the conflict. George W. Bush went from being a savior to being a goof. Meanwhile, the federal government’s powers increased over time as Big Data technology lets them do more, faster.

So, what do we want as a society? Liberty or safety? Do we want freedom from Big Brother, or do we want to be protected from marathon bombers, airplane hijackings and suicide bombers? Or, are we resigned to a “guardrail to guardrail” mode, where we want more vigilance after we experience violence, and later, we are stunned when we hear that government’s power has increased?

I want both, but I’m now wondering if we can. And, if we are trying to achieve balance between the two, where does the magical median lie?

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