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Civil Liberties Help Fight Crime Too

By clion999 in Op-Ed
Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 03:10:03 AM EST
Tags: Politics (all tags)

In the weeks after September 11th, the press and the populace continue to repeat the mantra that some civil liberties must be surrendered to gain some security. This instinct is understandable immediately after the attack, but it's only half the story. We must remember that sometimes civil liberties help stop crime and prevent terrorism. Sometimes those amendments are more than just a wet French kiss to the evil doers -- sometimes they provide security and speed the delivery of justice.

In the weeks after September 11th, the press and the populace continue to repeat the mantra that some civil liberties must be surrendered to gain some security. This instinct is understandable immediately after the attack, but it's only half the story. We must remember that sometimes civil liberties help stop crime and prevent terrorism. Sometimes those amendments are more than just a wet French kiss to the evil doers -- sometimes they provide security and speed the delivery of justice.

Consider the writ of habeus corpus. In the past, the U.S. government honored the tradition of justifying why it was holding a prisoner. Now, the Department of Justice refuses to answer many questions at all about the hundreds if not thousands of detainees.

This attitude may have made sense in the maelstrom, but now the stonewalling is just an impediment to solving the crimes. Public indictments and open courtrooms help everyone listen, understand and even contribute. Perhaps a biology grad student might recognize one of the people in jail as someone who asked strange questions about anthrax. Perhaps a crop duster salesman might see a photo in the paper and remember a fast talking man with a pile of cash who wanted to buy a plane.

There more than a million possible ways that public disclosure can help because there are millions of Americans who might know something. The police love shows like "America's Most Wanted" because they let millions of eyes contribute. Secrecy forces them to do all of the legwork on their own. Publicity cuts to the chase.

Most of the other so-called civil liberties also help fight crime. Many opponents of the Second Amendment are rethinking their stance after watching the passengers on Flight 93 fight back against the terrorists. There's no doubt that hijacking would be riskier if we armed the pilots, the flight attendents and perhaps even passengers with good marksmanship training and a clear record.

Consider the U.S. Government's new plan to make it easier to tap phones and Internet communications without a warrant. The paperwork may be onerous, but it can help investigators contain the damage when security breaches occur. We can only hope that former FBI agent and accused Russian spy Robert Hanssen left behind a paper trail of warrants so we know the secrets he betrayed.

The danger of wayward police officers is a real problem. The Chicago police force recently negotiated a plea agreement a criminal who used police databases to track the rental cars used by jewelery couriers in order to rob them. He didn't need to break in, though, because he was Chief of Detectives.

But the police are not just the only problem because criminals often find access to information. Drug dealers and their hacker friends have exploited police databases before. The clever dealers looked up potential customers and only sold to those with a long record of criminal convictions. The clean customers might have been undercover cops.

Of course, these databases can help the public if they're accurate and made public. Megan's Law was controversial and fought by some civil libertarians, but it did force the public disclosure of the homes of convicted sexual predators. An extra watchful eye can only help. But the U.S. Government's behavior in the aftermath of the attack has been counterproductive. They want to amass huge databases, but keep them secret.

Many civil libertarians are also fighting against the FBI's new plan to install backdoors in computer operating systems so they can snoop on potential bad guys. This may make their life easier, but it will also help Russian spies and others who might discover the hole. Can we really be sure that this backdoor will remain secret if we can't protect the secrets of the atomic bomb? Remember that one of the Cuban experts in the national security infrastructure was arrested for, of all things, spying for Cuba. We need to balance the value of these tools with the certainty that they'll fall into enemy hands.

The FBI is also floating plans to centralize the Internet and ensure that all traffic flows through a few central choke points where they can listen in as needed. This is only bound to weaken the Internet in case of attack. The phone system has been modified to their specifications and it is still not functioning in lower Manhattan. Why? The blast knocked it out.

The Internet, though, was designed to withstand attack and destruction. Many companies restarted their Internet connection with strange but wonderful inventions that broadcast the data over laser beams or radio waves. Requiring all data to flow through some central surveillance mechanism would destroy this resilence. The CIA was just one of the agencies that lost an office in the World Trade Center's destruction.

The list goes on and on. Civil liberties did not emerge because evil doers hacked into the constitution and inserted them. The people agreed upon them and tweaked them over the years to ensure an optimal balance. Open government, public courts, and careful regulation can ensure that everyone can participate in finding a just and honorable solution. We should remember this now that the urgency is fading and we seek to rebuild the land of liberty and justice for all.


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My Favorite Crime-Fighting Right is
o The Right to an open trial because it stops people from hiding their transgressions. 9%
o The right against unlawful search and seizure because it stops police from "confiscating" things they like. 33%
o The Right to a Free Press, because we need to know what the leaders are doing. 49%
o The Right to Judicial Review of Wiretapping because it prevents cops from freelancing. 7%

Votes: 77
Results | Other Polls

Related Links
o Also by clion999

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Civil Liberties Help Fight Crime Too | 48 comments (28 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
This is an important point, often overlooked (3.50 / 2) (#1)
by cyberformer on Tue Mar 12, 2002 at 03:16:12 PM EST

While I don't agree with all your examples (arming passengers might make hijacking more dangerous, but it would also make flying more dangerous), you do raise important points. Civil liberties are an essential part of a functioning society, and removing them impedes everything, including crime-fighting. +1FP!

No reason needed (4.57 / 7) (#2)
by farmgeek on Tue Mar 12, 2002 at 03:16:47 PM EST

There's no need to justify the rights in the U.S. Constitution. They were considered by the framers to be self evident.

But you're right, taking away civil liberties in an attempt to fight crime* is ultimately counter-productive.

* terrorism and espionage both being crimes.

The framers may have considered them self-evident (4.83 / 6) (#5)
by aphrael on Tue Mar 12, 2002 at 03:24:23 PM EST

But there is ample reason to believe that many modern citizens do not consider them self-evident. Unless there is established a Cult Of The Founding Fathers, which some in the right appear to desire but which would ultimately be an appeal to government-as-religion, the only way to have a productive political debate about civil liberties is to justify them to those who are not true believers. :)

[ Parent ]
Is Privacy a civil liberty then? (5.00 / 4) (#11)
by vefoxus on Tue Mar 12, 2002 at 04:19:21 PM EST

I'd like you to answer this question, because in this article you do not seem to take privacy into account at all... eg when you label the Megan's law as an increase in civil liberties: it does increase the information available to families, but it forever reduces the civil liberties of "sexual predators".

Following your argument it would seem that making all privacy disappear would both be good for law enforcement (that I can imagine) and be an increase in civil liberties, because everybody is (finally!) informed about what everybody does around you.

I'm afraid the examples you are giving here (excluding the first about trials) are not increase of civil liberties, but rather a decrease of privacy, and the the labelling of some citizens as "better" than others (and therefore give them more rights). I'm willing to discuss the effects of these, but please do not label these as "civil liberties help fight crime", because these are not civil liberties.

Civil Liberties... (4.60 / 5) (#12)
by wji on Tue Mar 12, 2002 at 04:24:31 PM EST

...are not around because they're useful to fight crime, or because they make for better government, or some other "practical" reason like that. Civil liberties are good in and of themselves ('we hold these truths to be self-evident'*).

[ * Jefferson was a hypocrite on so many levels... but what the hell. ]

In conclusion, the Powerpuff Girls are a reactionary, pseudo-feminist enterprise.

It's an import thing.. (5.00 / 5) (#17)
by strlen on Tue Mar 12, 2002 at 05:57:47 PM EST

Civil liberties create an open society, encouraging cricism, debate, discussion, inquiry and investigation. It also happens that the above listed properties are crucial to combat crime. Personally, I'd prefer to have civil liberties even if it meant a very high crime rate, a poor economy and divided and factional society -- they're worth it in themselves, as others have pointed out. But it also happens that liberty, besides being an end in it of itself, happens to be the means to achieving happyness and prosperity in general -- in politics, and in the lifes of individuals. Just look how a closed society lead to the Chernobyl catastrophe, as well as amplified its effect. Just look how un-free regimes have been responsible for some of the worst famines in history (Ukraine famine, "Great Leap Forwards" famine, Nigerian famines.. etc..). Or on a personal level, just look how lacking an education and hence a choice in occupation will cause stress, poverty, alcoholism and the like.

[T]he strongest man in the world is he who stands most alone. - Henrik Ibsen.
bang! whoosh! crash! (4.00 / 1) (#21)
by Skwirl on Tue Mar 12, 2002 at 07:19:55 PM EST

>There's no doubt that hijacking would be riskier if
>we armed the pilots, the flight attendents and
>perhaps even passengers with good marksmanship
>training and a clear record.

Two words: Explosive decompression. Think about it.

"Nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself." -- Herman Hesse
Explosive decompression (5.00 / 2) (#23)
by fink on Tue Mar 12, 2002 at 07:41:03 PM EST

... isn't the problem it once was. Most aircraft are structurally designed to withstand the loss of quite a lot of airframe (say a square foot or so) before problems occur. A simple bullethole won't do that much. Frangible ammunition can help there too, although could endanger other passengers.

[ Parent ]

bang! whoosh! thunk! boom! whoosh! crash! (none / 0) (#28)
by Skwirl on Tue Mar 12, 2002 at 10:44:35 PM EST

What about the fluid hammer problem? Not to mention all the vital flight equipment and/or passengers in harm's way.

There are less drastic ways of immobilizing would-be terrorists.

"Nothing in the world is more distasteful to a man than to take the path that leads to himself." -- Herman Hesse
[ Parent ]
Airframe loss (none / 0) (#45)
by katie on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 04:08:45 AM EST

Planes have flown, albeit roughly, with quite a lot more than 1sq foot of airframe missing - there was a 747 (Air India?) that lost about 4 seat-rows-worth of roof midflight and made it down. Got a lot of press coverage.

Friends of my parents were on a cross-US tri-star flight a while back that suffered what the pilot called "engine trouble" at the time, and when they were down turned out to be "catastrophic failure of one engine that took most of the tail with it..."

Wouldn't want to have it happen while I was there, but it's reassuring to know planes can survive that sort of thing.

[ Parent ]
Not a big deal (none / 0) (#40)
by dennis on Wed Mar 13, 2002 at 03:34:26 PM EST

Hollywood notwithstanding, airplanes are not sealed bubbles. There's a constant flow of air in and out, and a valve that regulates the pressure. Put an extra hole in the frame, and the valve will automatically close a bit. No problem.

[ Parent ]
brokaw and other stuff (4.83 / 6) (#22)
by lucid on Tue Mar 12, 2002 at 07:39:05 PM EST

I remember during the everlasting news coverage after September 11th hearing Tom Brokaw saying something about civil liberties. He said something to the effect that "Of course, Americans are now going to have to get used to restrictions on their rights..." I admit, this isn't an exact quote, but it reminded me why I don't like him. I think everyone should follow suit, and also not like him. But that's just me.

More importantly, though, I think I see a flaw in your essay. You optimistically assume that restrictions on our rights are actually meant to aid in the capture of criminals. I find it more likely that these measures are designed to cover and conceal failures and feasts.

The biggest threat facing America, and his army, and his bretheren will always win so long as the opposition remains the same. Our civil liberties are the most important thing we have, and anyone who tells you different is pulling the wool over your eyes.

Missing Poll Option (4.60 / 5) (#25)
by Canthros on Tue Mar 12, 2002 at 09:40:54 PM EST

My favorite 'crime-fighting' right is:
The right to own a fucking gun.

But seriously: it allows me (potentially, since I do not actually own weapon) to protect my rights against violent attempts at the deprivation of the afore-mentioned rights, in situations where governmental force cannot be practically brought to bear.

IMHO, YMMV, etc, etc.

It's now obvious you are either A) Gay or B) Female, or possibly both.
The O.K. Corral at 35,000 ft. (4.66 / 3) (#27)
by Demiurge on Tue Mar 12, 2002 at 10:36:17 PM EST

The idea that only if the poor passengers on the downed planes had all been carrying submachine guns then this whole tragedy would have been adverted is ludicrous. Hell, why stop there? Who knows what sort of armaments the terrorists may have? Arm the flight attendants with anti-armor weapons! And what better place to bring a suitcase nuke for defense?

[ Parent ]
It's not their weapons, it's their bodyarmor... (4.50 / 2) (#29)
by bke on Wed Mar 13, 2002 at 07:09:47 AM EST

You don't need antitank weapons unless you are fighting tanks. To successfully fight a person with a antitank weapon you only need something that will take him out since the weapon is useless without an operator. And since it's highly unlikely that someone will be able to sneak aboard a plane in full balistic bodyarmour you only need subsonic jacketed hollowpoint bullets and aim for the soft parts (face, groin, limbs) to be sure to take them out. These bullets also have very little overpenetration which would minimise the risk of damage other people or breach the hull integrity of the aircraft.

Read, think, spread!
[ Parent ]

Fucking Bullshit! (3.00 / 3) (#32)
by CokeBear on Wed Mar 13, 2002 at 10:43:33 AM EST

We know that over the past 200 years, the US Government has abused its powers a few times. Can you name one occasion where people with guns deterred the US government from infringing on their rights?

If the government wants to break down your door, arrest and torture you, confiscate all your stuff, is there any kind of gun that will protect you?

No matter how big your guns are, theirs will always be bigger. Remember Ruby Ridge? Waco? They tried to use their second amendment rights to protect other rights.

Can you imagine any situation where the government is about to trample on a person's rights, but decides not to because that person has a gun? It would never happen! If they think you have a gun, they will just bring more and bigger guns. In fact, pointing a gun at the government (in the form of their representative, the police) will in almost every case, just get you killed!

[ Parent ]

People vs nutcases (4.66 / 3) (#34)
by Cro Magnon on Wed Mar 13, 2002 at 12:37:54 PM EST

If some nutcase or even a large group of nutcases tries any stuff with guns, they'll get slapped down. If, OTOH, some tyrants get into the government and decide to throw people into concentration camps, I think 80 million gun owners will make them think twice. Most Americans poo-poo this scenario because it's never happened here. It's still a good last-resort precaution against blatent tyranny.
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
Some would say... (4.66 / 3) (#35)
by CokeBear on Wed Mar 13, 2002 at 01:42:53 PM EST

Some would say that there already is a tyrant running the country, and he has locked up people without trial. Gitmo, Cuba sounds like a concentration camp to me, and lets not forget the Japanese Internment Camps in WW2.

Always remember, 80% of people are sheep. They will go along with whatever government propaganda is spewed at them.

The government will not suddenly take away our rights, it will happen slowly, while people aren't paying attention.

Also, 80 Million sounds a bit high. Are there really that many gun owners in the USA? (Source?)

[ Parent ]

Rebuttal (4.00 / 1) (#36)
by Cro Magnon on Wed Mar 13, 2002 at 02:37:24 PM EST

AFAIK, there are no American citizens in Gitmo, just foriegners that the govt is suspicious of. Of course the Japanese-Americans were mistreated, but since the majority of Americans distrusted them they didn't complain. 80% of people ARE sheep, but if govt stormtroopers arrest your next door neighbor, even a sheep will ask "Am I next?". You might bring up our "war on drugs" but how many people, especially outside crime-ridden urban areas, personally know anyone who had their property conficated for "drug crimes". I'm guessing not many. As for the 80 million figure, I heard it on the radio. Since I haven't researched it myself, I'm quite willing to concede that it may be inflated, nontheless the number is still significant. Unfortunatly, you're right on target about how we're losing our freedoms. The govt doesn't need blatant stormtrooper-like tactics when their slow, gradual, one-step-at-a-time approach is working so well.
Information wants to be beer.
[ Parent ]
Speaking of property seizures... (none / 0) (#44)
by Kaki Nix Sain on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 03:29:53 AM EST

... in relation to drug laws. Here is a meme I like to propogate.

[ Parent ]

I grew up (none / 0) (#48)
by Altus on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 11:01:27 AM EST

in a nice little town outside of boston. very white collar, reasonably afluent.

I know a couple of people who have been arested on drug charges. the person who got hit the hardest, luckily didnt have any property to be seized (he was 18-19 at the time).

I would imagine that im not the only one, but im not sure

"In America, first you get the sugar, then you get the power, then you get the women..." -H. Simpson
[ Parent ]
Here's a statistic source (none / 0) (#47)
by HagakureGuy on Thu Mar 14, 2002 at 09:46:35 AM EST

I found this on the National Criminal Justice Reference Service (the site looks to be somehow related to the Department of Justice). It says in 1994, 44 million Americans owned 192 million firearms.

Of course we all know Mark Twain's quote about statistics.

[ Parent ]
Remember 1776 (4.66 / 3) (#37)
by prana on Wed Mar 13, 2002 at 03:16:57 PM EST

The early citizens of our nation found firearms to be an excellent deterrant to tyranny. It's difficult to contest their success.

Yet it is questionable whether rifles and handguns continue to serve as adequate protection against modern tyranny. The social/political/cultural landscape has radically changed in the past 200 years: perhaps we should extend our "liberty insurance" beyond the simplistic right to hurl pieces of metal really fast.

What is the modern equivalent of the 2nd Amendment?

[ Parent ]
Second Amendment (none / 0) (#43)
by Canthros on Wed Mar 13, 2002 at 09:06:08 PM EST

prana wrote:
What is the modern equivalent of the 2nd Amendment?

Since the second amendment to the U. S. Constitution specifies the right of the people to keep and bear arms, the real issue falls under the need to keep a well regulated militia, as specified therein. Given the presence of the U. S. military, one could make an argument for the removal of this right: it is no longer necessary for citizens-at-large to form and maintain local militias to provide military force in the event of war or other armed conflict. Nonetheless, I am loathe to call for the restriction the rights of the citizenry without just cause. Arms are still useful for individual protection, even as a deterrent. For starters.

But I digress. There is no "modern equivalent" to the second amendment. There is the second amendment. I am unsure that a new law, act, or constitutional amendment is needed.

It's now obvious you are either A) Gay or B) Female, or possibly both.
[ Parent ]
Since you asked... (5.00 / 4) (#38)
by dennis on Wed Mar 13, 2002 at 03:29:27 PM EST

Can you name one occasion where people with guns deterred the US government

Battle of Athens, Tennessee in 1946. It was a county government problem, not federal, but the elections were being fixed and a bunch of ex-GIs decided that wasn't what they'd fought for. They got a bunch of rifles and put a stop to it.

[ Parent ]

Yes, actually (5.00 / 5) (#39)
by epepke on Wed Mar 13, 2002 at 03:32:30 PM EST

Back in the mid-1980's, the police in Orlando, FL as part of a get-tough scheme started breaking into suspects' houses without the niceties of presenting a search warrant. After a couple of them got their heads blown off, the department reconsidered the policy.

Mostly, it acts as a deterrent. You would be amazed at how much more polite the police become with someone who has a concealed weapon permit.

The truth may be out there, but lies are inside your head.--Terry Pratchett

[ Parent ]
*sigh* (5.00 / 1) (#42)
by Canthros on Wed Mar 13, 2002 at 08:52:20 PM EST

This is in reference to this and this.

Must everyone read everything into my comment? I did not speak for arming people on planes (specifically, anyway), for reasons already mentioned: a slug-thrower is dangerous weapon at 30,000 feet. I would be wary of even rubber bullets. If you must arm people on planes as a means of preventing high-jacking, I'd suggest tasers. Even then, I wouldn't want a taser loose in the cockpit.

I certainly said nothing about preventing the guv'mint from infringing on my rights: I mentioned protecting my rights in instances

where governmental force cannot be practically brought to bear.
That is, in my house or on my property, under threat of deadly or dangerous force, before the arrival of (or in the abscence of) police force. Preventing the government from restricting my rights is the domain of my legislators and my vote. The application of violent force is only an option i the last place, no-other-way-out circumstance. Reformation is preferable to revolution.

Don't you people read before posting?

It's now obvious you are either A) Gay or B) Female, or possibly both.
[ Parent ]
-1, messy (3.00 / 3) (#31)
by Stereo on Wed Mar 13, 2002 at 08:53:32 AM EST

I couldn't agree more with your point, Civil Liberties are the keystone of society; however I don't agree with your arguments at all. Do you really think giving up privacy will improve these liberties? Also, your article is badly constructed and your writing looks like a first draft you wouldn't have taken enough time to write. I won't even mention the double intro.

I also realise you are a new kid on the block here; you haven't posted anything else yet. Maybe you could post some comments and/or diary entries before jumping into stories. It takes time to really feel the k5 temperature.
-- God will forgive me. That's his job after all. -- Konrad Adenauer
Civil Liberties Help Fight Crime Too | 48 comments (28 topical, 20 editorial, 0 hidden)
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