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June 18, 2013 8:18 am

The Amend Corner: The delicate balance of freedom and security

Written by Don Amend

For almost a dozen years now, this nation has been on a campaign to keep we the people safe.

The attacks back in 2001 triggered enormous efforts to increase security, especially in air travel, and incidents ranging from airline passengers with explosive BVDs to school invasions by deranged, gun-toting individuals have increased the concern.

Some of those efforts have been very public. We are all aware of the colossal pain in the neck airport security has become, for example. Other efforts have been less visible, such as the electronic gathering of information on phone calls and emails undertaken by the National Security Agency.

It is that program that has recently come to the forefront as some in Congress search for ways to attack the president, despite the fact that the program originated in the Bush administration following the 9/11 attacks.

Well, I have to admit that the scope of this recently revealed program was a bit troublesome at first. The idea that somewhere on a hard drive at NSA headquarters there may be a record of an email containing pungent comments about a patdown at YRA just waiting to cause trouble for me was a bit scary.

At least it was, until I realized that a tiny bit of information hidden among several billion messages is, for all practical purposes, invisible. Moreover, even with this surveillance, the government probably has less information on me than Google, iTunes and the book club I belong to.

Still, I do have sympathy for the view that the government may be going too far in snooping into our affairs, although that is balanced by the hope that security procedures will allow me to watch a football game without a pressure cooker full of BBs exploding under my seat during the second quarter.

There are those who contend that freedom should never be compromised in favor of security. They are fond quoting Ben Franklin, who is credited with saying, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”

On the other hand, there are those who strive for perfect security, and are more likely to support restrictions on that freedom to achieve it.

Neither side is being realistic, of course. No government can provide perfect security to its citizens.

On the other hand, there is no such thing as perfect freedom, and without security, our freedom is very much compromised — a fact Mr. Franklin, as a newspaperman, should have been aware of. Back in his day, printing an unpopular opinion could, and sometimes did, bring a mob bent on compromising your freedom of the press by smashing your printing press.

The plain fact is that freedom is necessary to live our lives the way we want to, but without security, that freedom is, for all practical purposes, meaningless. One cannot be free if he is living in fear of criminal behavior in his community or financial ruin due to financial manipulations by banks that are “too big to fail.”

The trick, then, is to find a balance between freedom and security; in other words, drawing a line between the two.

But, just as there cannot be perfect security or perfect freedom, there will never be a perfect place to draw that line, and the line will always be fuzzy rather than sharply drawn. Just where to place that limit will be an everlasting issue in a democratic society such as ours. Compromise, although it has become a dirty word among the more radical among us, will be necessary.

In the end, I’m not paranoid about the collection of telephone and email data by the National Security Agency. It is always possible, I suppose, that the information could be misused, but I suspect the odds of that happening are about the same as my being the victim of a terroristic attack.

Realistically, I’m more likely to be struck by lightning.

That doesn’t mean that I won’t keep an eye out for such abuse, which could come from either end of the political spectrum, because, in the words of Thomas Jefferson, “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty.”

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