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August 20, 2007

WHILE THERE'S ALARMISM ABOUT CIVIL LIBERTIES, I have to say that things have actually gone better than I feared nearly six years ago. So it's interesting to read this from Geoffrey Stone:

The legislation amending FISA is unwarranted, reckless and possibly unconstitutional. Nonetheless, the overall state of civil liberties in the US, viewed in historical perspective, is surprisingly strong. There are no internment camps for American Muslims, no suspensions of habeas corpus for American citizens, no laws prohibiting criticism of the war in Iraq. This might not seem like much, but in light of past episodes, the intrusions on civil liberties since 9/11 have been relatively modest.

Stone has certainly warned about dangers to civil liberties -- but warning about potential dangers is different from proclaiming that the Constitution has already been abandoned and that we're living in a police state now. And I think the over-the-top rhetoric that we often see on this topic does more harm than good. In that, I think I do disagree with Stone, who thinks that alarmism has actually helped. Perhaps, but there's a major "crying wolf" problem, too. (Via Jonathan Adler). Meanwhile, a point I made a while back: "I'll add this comment, which is only somewhat on-topic: Not so much nuanced discussants like Posner and Stone, but press coverage and political rhetoric generally, tend to suggest that there's a 'trade-off' between national security and freedom. But that's misleading. You don't buy national security by getting rid of freedom; you may, in fact, wind up less secure. (This is a point I was making back on September 13, 2001). Nor is it necessarily the case that improvements in national security burden freedom. They may, in fact, have no impact at all, or even result in more freedom in some ways. It just depends. Programs have to be judged on their merits." Trade-offs sometimes exist, but the notion that they necessarily exist and that less freedom necessarily produces more security or vice versa, is a lazy journalistic cliche, not a fact.

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