American history is full of moments when freedoms contracted as the country faced what it perceived to be dangers to national security.
During World War II, the United States government held many Japanese Americans in internment camps, fearing they would infiltrate the country from within and try to destroy it.
During the Persian Gulf War, reporters were often told what they could and couldn’t report in the news. The military created a pool reporter system where one reporter could only enter certain war areas at certain times, creating a sanitized version of what really took place.
Freedoms were taken away when the government told us they needed to be. The above examples were not for national security; rather, they were knee-jerk reactions.
Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, our knees began to jerk and we responded by attacking al-Qaida in Afghanistan. While most would agree the war in Afghanistan was necessary, many measures afterward have not been and it appears the government’s knee is still convulsing. And those jerks can have terrible consequences.
The recently passed Homeland Security Act is one of them.
The federal government now has the power to invade our lives in profound and pronounced ways. Under a program called the Information Awareness Office, a sub-agency of the Pentagon, the government can use new forms of surveillance, including camera software that recognizes your gait, your face and your retina.
These new provisions seem like something straight out of “Minority Report” or George Orwell’s “1984.”
Even scarier is that the Pentagon will run the new IAO – meaning the military, not a civilian agency or congressionally appointed department, is in charge of this surveillance. Big Brother really is watching, and his name is John Poindexter.
Another problem with this department is how it easy it becomes for extreme measures to be taken, using national security as justification. How simple will it be for the government to define a person as a “possible terrorist,” invade his or her home, and rob this potentially innocent person of his or her guaranteed rights? And aren’t we supposed to be innocent until proven otherwise in this country?
The Homeland Security Department can completely trample the Fourth Amendment, arguing it must do so in order to protect the country. So we ruin our freedoms in order to protect them. What circular, nonsensical logic.
While we don’t know if the government will abuse its new powers or actually have the citizenry’s best interests in mind, the problem is that it now has powers beyond what it should. Our freedom is what makes America unique and the greatest country in the world. How great can we be when our government takes away those freedoms?
Our knees can’t still be jerking 15 months after the terrorist attacks in New York and Washington. Perhaps the government really has no idea how to handle this situation and still preserve our civil liberties. And if that is the case, maybe we need to find some new people who can still lead us, protect us from terrorism and preserve those liberties we hold dear and which define us.