Your World Today: Our new paradox of freedom and security
by Timothy J.A. Passmore
Jun 14, 2013 | 625 views | 0 0 comments | 76 76 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Watching thousands of people enter Chattanooga’s Riverbend festival has made for some interesting viewing this year. Enhanced safety measures have included security checks at the gates, not an uncommon practice at such large public events, but previously absent from this one.

What was somewhat surprising, however, was the reaction of those waiting in these long lines, eager perhaps to get in and hear the not-so-family-friendly performance by Cee Lo Green, or to eat a monstrous funnel cake that would seemingly have one’s arteries cowering in fear.

Those asked by local news reporters how they felt about the delays resulting from the security checks did not express frustration or disapproval, but rather were overwhelmingly supportive and relieved at the new measures. The bombing at the Boston Marathon is still very fresh in Americans’ memories, not to mention what seem like weekly shooting rampages across the country, and the ever-present fear of a terrorist attack that has dominated foreign and domestic policy since September 2001.

The concert-goers’ support of extra security measures is not a far cry from my own. Perhaps I am the one person who approves of the overly intimate pat down in an airport, as I beadily inspect the security officer at the X-ray conveyor belt to ensure he is watching the screen scrupulously. But something tells me most of us feel that way nowadays and, without doubt, we have gladly accepted increased infringement on our personal liberties in exchange for safety.

Yet there is no way to be truly free and at the same time truly safe. The coexistence of total freedom and total security is a notion paradoxical by nature, resulting in our very need for government at all. That is the idea behind Thomas Hobbes’ “Social Contract Theory,” whereby we gladly submit some of our freedom in return for state-issued security and order. What results is an attempt to maintain a delicate balance of the two. We largely trust the government to keep us safe, as long as it is done within the parameters of the Constitution and does not fundamentally change what it means to be an American.

With that in mind, how far is too far in the attempt to keep us safe? I am willing to endure heavy petting in an airport security line if it gives me peace of mind on a plane, but how should I feel about the government having access to every phone call, Google search or social media interaction I make on a daily basis? Is this a largely innocuous move that ultimately has my best interests at heart? Or should such a step be considered blatant overreach by the government that violates the very freedom the leaders of this country are claiming to be protecting?

Unfortunately, I may have read too much George Orwell to have an unbiased opinion on the current scandal involving the National Security Agency. The act of potentially wire-tapping my phone calls does not give me great cause for concern. As far as I’m aware, I don’t have anything to hide from the government, although I am quick to correct people who say that I teach “Terrorism,” suggesting “Terrorism Studies” is more appropriate and less likely to land me in Gitmo.

But perhaps what has me and most others concerned is the gradual expansion of Executive and Congressional authority that has resulted from the 9/11 attacks. The PATRIOT Act gave the government all but total freedom to spy on, investigate and prosecute any individual thought to be a threat to national security. The broad and vague definition of terrorism may appear a hindrance in the battle to eradicate it, but it also gives the government virtual carte blanche in not only foreign policy, but domestic as well. The escalation of this authority has led to the unjustified invasion of Iraq, a drone strike program that violates international law and the staggering existence to this day of such detention facilities as Guantanamo Bay.

Like these previous acts of government, the accessing of phone records and the widespread monitoring of Internet activity by the NSA makes me uneasy. Clearly, I am not alone in this sentiment, as this story continues to dominate news headlines.

In all fairness, we should have been tipped off that something fishy was going on when Republicans in Congress actually showed support for an act of the Obama administration. That should strike anyone as odd. Perhaps this show of bipartisanship is the one positive to take away from this whole debacle.

Meanwhile, for all the promises of change and redirection in the early days of his presidency, Mr. Obama continues to look more and more like the reincarnation of George W. Bush when it comes to security policy. Perhaps this should not be a huge shock — presidents tend to differ much more over social and economic issues than security and foreign policy. Yet nothing about President Obama’s early rhetoric indicated that he would expand the drone program, fail to close Guantanamo Bay or promote heightened monitoring of Americans’ lives through such programs as “PRISM.” In fact, it was quite the opposite.

To suggest that the government should not have secrets is incorrect, and arguing that violating my privacy is wrong may be naïve since I have not experienced the alternative to such security firsthand. In fact, it is impossible to say just how much better my life has been with invasive security measures in place.

Yet I can’t help but feel that continuation down this path can lead to nothing but trouble. The Orwellian in me foresees the slippery slope of government power and the potential return of Leviathan-esque authority.

And at the end of the day, this is ultimately a victory for the enemies of America who seek to challenge the very way of life that is now being eroded by the government’s own security policy.