Spies Are Us

Americans are being spied on by their own government as it turns out, and, some of us don’t appreciate it all that much. There is historical and constitutional underpinning to such outrage as there is. We’re supposed to be protected by our Constitution from unreasonable searches and seizures, but that hard won constitutional guarantee seems to have dissipated before the federal government’s assessment of its own necessities.

There is another side to this, of course, and that is that all this domestic spying is doing us invaluable service in the fight against terrorism. Bin Laden is dead, but al-Qaeda lives on, and we simply must use every tool available to keep the U.S. citizenry safe. President Obama himself has defended the National Security Agency’s operation as a necessary defense against terrorism. [1] “We have to make choices as a society,” he has said most tellingly. “It’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience.”

The President is absolutely correct. In the current state of affairs, it is essential that the federal government closely monitor all communications. If we are to be safe, this must be done.

And yet, the realization that the government must spy on us to keep us safe should be troubling. Surely the oft quoted proverb of Benjamin Franklin weighs heavily on the mind at times like this: “They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” [2]

We want safety, but we don’t want to be spied on. But it seems that we can’t have safety unless we are spied on. So must we succumb to the apparently inevitable?

Perhaps the truly salient question is: why do we have such enemies from whom we must be protected in such a manner? The answer is that the policymakers of the United States have been convinced for some time now that it is in the national interest to intrusively involve itself in Middle Eastern affairs. Like it or not, there are some who live in the Middle East who take profound exception to that international posture, and some of them have resolved to respond with acts of intense brutality.

George Washington in his Farewell Address cautioned us against abandoning neutrality in foreign affairs [3], but few warnings have been so recklessly ignored. The current controversy over domestic spying should remind us to heed the sage advice of that “old and affectionate friend.” The current situation does not permit us to have safety without the close monitoring of our federal government. The only way out for us is to change the situation. 

Jack Quirk

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