Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Losing Site of the Big Picture

The lonely libertarian is a bit pissed off, seeing as his libertarian-ness is exactly what is being questioned at Hit and Run and here on Conservatarian indeed.

The point seems to be that any true libertarian should be overflowing with outrage over the Bush Administrations use of warrantless wiretapping on phone calls coming in to the United States from known terrorist phone numbers overseas. Sifu Tweety's piece goes on to describe a scenario that’s supposed to outrage. The problem is, the hypothetical utilized in the piece is in a word, ridiculous. The initial premise itself seems a bit farfetched, that somehow one call from former (not current) terrorist phone number from overseas combined with the purchase of a calling card in Mexico is enough to warrant special national security attention. Oh wait. Did I just say warrant? That’s right, I did. Because a warrant is exactly what would be needed to pursue any charges for any of the other matters raised in this completely off-the-wall hypothetical.

It’s fairly simple actually. Let’s say the government does tap into a private phone conversation because of terrorism suspicions, without first getting a warrant. Such a phone tap does not give the government a carte blanche to pry in to every other aspect of your personal life. Anything else they’d like to look in to- your computer, your e-mails, other phone calls- still require a warrant. So throw the rest of that wacky hypothetical out the window. And what if the government discovers non-terrorism related criminal activity while conducting a warrantless tap? I’m not sure what would happen, nor can anyone be quite sure just what would happen. After all, such a situation has not actually happened in the real world. If it did, the lonely libertarian would be firmly on the side arguing, “You can’t use evidence obtained in warrantless terrorist surveillance in a routine criminal prosecution.”

If you want to debate just how the War on Terror should be conducted, and what the government should and shouldn’t be allowed to do, that’s just fine. But don’t scare people with half-baked tales about how government spying is going to take away the freedoms and liberties of the average American.

The fact of the matter is that this is primarily an issue of national security and more importantly, a question about the lengths the government and its intelligence branches should go to while conducting its spying operations. And it should be discussed as such, not as some convoluted civil liberties issue. If you’re truly concerned about civil liberties, why don’t you discuss the hundreds or thousands of violations that occur every single day throughout this country in the name of the War on Drugs? You know, the sorts of scenarios you can read about in the paper or see on the evening news, the scenarios that are actually based in fact.

And don’t, don’t, don’t question my libertarian-ness. Does government spying concern me? Of course it does. But I am a firm believer in the Exclusionary Rule as the primary means of protecting our civil liberties. After all, any government, even an ideal libertarian government is bound to overstep its authority and some point, and violate someone’s privacy. The true test of a free society is not whether or not these boundaries have been violated, but what is done with the information obtained while violating these boundaries. Regardless of the procedures used in government spying as a measure against terrorism, I don’t want the information obtained during this spying being used in non-terrorism criminal prosecutions, and I do want such information used to prevent future terrorist attacks. Quite simple really.

This hypothetical is really quite telling. Rather then dealing in reality, libertarians with their heads in the sand would rather spend their time concocting stories that are too far out for even Oliver Stone. And of course, the big question is constantly avoided. Forget about the Bush Administrations wiretapping program for a minute. What if a completely illegal domestic wiretapping project was to uncover another terrorist attack before it had the chance to unfold, and various members of an Al-Queda cell in the United States were captured. Should we exclude all that evidence and let the terrorists go? What say you Mr. Self-Righteous libertarian?

Intelligent people with their hearts in the right places get bogged down in these civil liberty questions, while the basic question of how to conduct a “War on Terror” gets continuously avoided. The worst part is, it gives the Bush Administration a pass on just about everything they do. Fighting terrorism is not like fighting domestic crime, nor is it like fighting a traditional war. New rules and new standards need to be created. Personally I think the Bush administration has done an admirable job, flying by the seat of its pants. But that doesn’t mean there’s neither room for improvement nor room for criticism. The problem is these smart people with the hearts in the right places have yet to delve into the issue of the morally correct way to combat terrorism. Sifu Tweety entitled his article “Libertarianism for dummies.” The lonely libertarian would argue that a libertarianism that trivializes the big issues while focusing on minutia is perhaps the most masturbatory form of libertarianism possible; Feels good, but means next to nothing.


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