Despite admitting that the National Security “vacuums up information about virtually every telephone call to, from, or within the United States,” William Pauley, a federal judge on the United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, decreed last week that the NSA’s dragnet approach is constitutional because, well, he believes that it is necessary.
As William Pitt the Younger observed, “necessity is the plea for every infringement of human freedom. It is the argument of tyrants; it is the creed of slaves.”
The world is an inherently dangerous place. The idea that the government can protect us is patently absurd. All the government can do is to destroy our liberties while promoting the illusion of safety.
President Dwight Eisenhower acknowledged this fact when he said that if you wanted real safety, go to prison. You get three meals and a bunk. Heck, you even get government health care. The only thing missing is freedom.
What Ike did not say is that in prison you are at the mercy of those guarding you. Unfortunately, this fact is lost on Judge Pauley, who wrote, “there is no evidence that the government has used any of the bulk telephony metadata it collected for any purpose other than investigating and disrupting terrorist attacks.”
What matters is not whether the government has used this information for nefarious purposes, but whether it now has the ability to engage in such behavior.
We often hear that “it” can’t happen here. “It,” of course, refers to outright tyranny and State oppression. The reason that “it” couldn’t happen is that certain safeguards were built into the system. Namely, our Bill of Rights.
Granted, the Bill of Rights is simply words on paper, not some sort of natural law that governs the actions of men and governments. Nevertheless, those words used to carry a certain gravitas.
No politician has ever won office by saying that he was going to eliminate the Bill of Rights. They have won office by promising to protect us, and portraying the Bill of Rights as an impediment to that sacred duty. Unfortunately, after many years of exposure to such propaganda, many Americans have now come to view their liberties as a luxury to be discarded when their safety is threatened. By the time they realize how precious those liberties are, it may be too late.
While Pauley might (dubiously) claim that government officials have not abused the NSA’s program, he cannot guarantee that future government officials will act so judiciously. In fact, history shows that governments will exercise their powers to their fullest extent. That’s why the Anti-federalists demanded a Bill of Rights in the first place!
We are at a very dangerous point in our history. The traditional bulwarks against tyranny have been degraded or eliminated, and a police state infrastructure has been erected in the shadows. All it takes is the right crisis, and this infernal machine roars to life, probably to the cheers of the masses.
Perhaps we will be lucky and the government will not abuse the powers that it has usurped. However, so long as perceived necessity trumps liberty, it’s only a matter of time before that luck runs out.