April 21, 2013

Balancing security, freedom a challenge

Our national identity is built upon the premise that our personal and financial affairs are nobody else’s business. Incidents like the Boston massacre and 9/11 challenge that faith.

Most of us had peaceful upbringings. We felt no danger in our neighborhoods. But modern media and a more complicated world seems to bring danger to our doorsteps. Are we willing to pay the personal and financial price to make our communities safer?

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Gun control inadvertently leaped into this debate. Recommendations varied, from arming teachers to banning guns or violence from our videos and movies. Clearly, the ultimate solution is one of balance.

We balance our First Amendment right to free speech and our Second Amendment right to bear arms in the interest of an effective militia. We add to the mix the Fourth Amendment right to freedom from unreasonable search or seizure and the imputed right to privacy from the Supreme Court’s 1965 Griswold decision over contraception. This right to privacy has been invoked a number of times since then.

As our democracy balances these rights, we are left with a tension that affects our quality of life and commerce. To what degree will a free-market-oriented economy and citizenry accustomed to freedom tolerate a government that monitors more of our day-to-day movements and decisions?

The balance between freedom and safety has some financial costs. Increased surveillance is expensive. I once lived under the bombed-out tower of the British Telecom building in London, which was left as a charred relic to remind citizens of the reason why almost every public place is under a surveillance camera in London. Decades ago, the British accepted the high financial and personal price to deter Irish Republican Army bombs. Now, that system attempts to deter Al Qaeda attacks.

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