Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Americans are sensible

I like Americans. They may not always pay attention, but when they finally do they usually get it right.

Americans increasingly suspect the federal government has become cloaked in secrecy, a concern they don't have with their local and state governments.

People also overwhelmingly believe that their federal leaders have become sneaky, listening to telephone conversations or opening private mail without getting court permission, according to a survey of 1,008 adults commissioned by the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

By a 2-1 margin, people want FBI agents and other investigators to obtain search warrants before monitoring private communications, even if they suspect terrorism. And more than a quarter of the people in the survey said they suspect their own phone calls and letters have been intercepted.

Warrants? What sort of commie demands warrants before searches can be conducted?

Oops, sorry. I was channeling "security at all costs" proponents for a second there.

The expressed worry that their own communications have been intercepted is almost certainly overblown, unless you're talking about one of the big datamining operations that essentially sucks in everything but analyzes very little of it in detail. There simply aren't enough people in the NSA, the CIA and the FBI put together to monitor the calls of a quarter of the population.

But it does show that people are thinking about how such things might affect them, moving past the simplistic "why are you so concerned about the rights of terrorists" demonizing. I'm not concerned about the rights of terrorists; I'm concerned about the rights of all citizens and detainees, including suspected terrorists.

Fully 70 percent think the federal government is secretive. They were split (46 percent to 45 percent) on whether the press should have reported on the NSA eavesdropping program; fewer people approved of revelations regarding CIA torture (43%), CIA secret prisons (41%) and (oddly) disclosure of the identities of the inmates held at Guantanamo (38%). Approval of disclosure rose with educational attainment.

Americans, as a whole, apparently like their freedoms, and aren't scared enough to give them up just yet.

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Blogger Biby Cletus said...

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regards Biby - Blog

3/07/2007 9:48 PM  
Anonymous Marc Schneider said...

I don't think it's unreasonable for the government to recognize a particular threat and take actions that it might not ordinarily take. As Lincoln said, the Constitution is not a suicide pact.But the problem with this administration, IMO, is (1) it recognizes no limits on what it can do in the name of natioanl security; and (2) it thinks the public has no legitimate right to question what it does.

Some of the specific concerns, as you note, are probably overblown. But it's the administration's attitude toward civil liberties, in general, and its willingness to stack the Justice Department with people that will tell it what it wants to hear that it especially troubling. I don't think George Bush or Karl Rove, despite the rantings on the left, are fascists that want to do away with constitutional protections or democracy. But they have a very cavlier attitude toward specific civil liberties and don't really seem to comprehend the damage that their actions do to the notion of limited government.

I'm very glad to see that people are concerned about these issues. To a large extent, the belief that people wouldn't care as long as they felt there was a terrorist threat fueled the administration's actions.

But I think it's also fair to note that the administration is, to some extent, between a rock and a hard place. If another 9/11 happens, it will get blamed. Under the circumstances, it's not surprising that it would try to do whatever it thinks it needs to do to forestall another attack. I don't think you need to attribute malice or fascist tendencies to Bush and Cheney; any bureaucracy will seek to protect itself and the national security bureaucracy is no different.

3/09/2007 10:11 AM  
Blogger Sean Aqui said...

All fair points. I agree that the problem with Bush is not so much active evil as an overemphasis on security and a discounting of civil liberty concerns.

I recognize the quandary of knowing he would be held accountable for another attack. But the answer there was not to simply tromp all over civil liberties; it was to educate the populace about the issue, and make clear that while he was doing everything in his power to protect us, a free society can never be totally safe.

I'm not quite so forgiving of Gonzales and company, though; they did the hard legal work to "authorize" torture, warrantless wiretaps and the like.

3/09/2007 8:25 PM  

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