National Security vs. Right to Know

The debate between national security and the public’s right to know has been launched to the forefront of American angst in the last two years. With so many stories about NSA programs and CIA operations, it’s hard to not to wonder about the consequences of such actions and the disclosures of those actions. If viewed honestly, the situation we are currently faced with, i.e., the global jihadist movement to kill as many Westerners and Jews as possible while reestablishing the caliphate, is a situation that requires a delicate balance between our security and our rights as American citizens. It is with that honesty that I hope to approach this subject.

Terrorism is real! There is no turning back and there is no negotiation. We are entrenched in a new war against a new enemy that has global capabilities who is very difficult to see. The idea of placation in reference to the mentality of islmafascists is an idea that is severely misguided and extremely dangerous. And the tired quibbles about past discretions involving the geopolitical realities that sway the actions of every power, are useless in solving this conflict. In other words, understanding our enemies’ grievances, be they legitimate or not, is not the key to winning this war. That is not a realistic option; it’s not a way forward. Understanding Al Qaeda’s motivations will do absolutely nothing to stem their attacks; in fact I believe giving them credence only helps to embolden them. With that being said in hopes to avoid getting comments about how everything is America’s fault, we can move on to the issue at hand.

What rights do murdered people have? If you’re killed from a terrorist’s blast, your right to privacy is completely irrelevant. In the context of American life, one has to weigh the reality on the ground and the hopes of the dream. Are we able to accept limited-freedoms if that limitation is what keeps us alive? There are, of course, lines that can never be crossed and a police state is obviously unacceptable to most people. But outside of the police state, fear mongering argument, we can get to the root of the disagreements.

The government has an obligation to protect its citizens and the government has the obligation to uphold the Constitution of the United States of America. In that reality lay the problem. If the government, while protecting its citizens, hinders our constitutional freedoms, do we have a right to know about it? Before you answer, there is also a reverse argument to that. If the press, while exercising its freedom, endangers the freedom of others (to live and breathe) do we have the right to protect ourselves? This line of thinking can be seen in other issues as well. I have the freedom to smoke cigarettes but due to obvious health risks this particular freedom has on others, commonsense regulations are put forth to protect those who don’t smoke. So, where do the rights of one person end and the rights of another person begin?

The New York Times believes they have a right to expose top-secret programs to the American public. But I believe I have the right not to be put at risk by the likes of the NY Times. And I happen to believe my right to live and not be put in danger, outweighs the right of the Times to expose a program that deals in, for example, phone records. On a scale of 1-10, with 1 being “not at all important” and 10 being “extremely important”, phone records ranks about a 3 and my right NOT to be a victim of a suicide blast ranks about a 10.

So, is it OK to use technology to spy and track terrorists if there is the possibility of infringing on the rights of innocent people? The answer to that question is “yes”. It is fine to use such methods and technology. However, is it legal and morally justified to do so? These are general questions because different cases require different conclusions. One program’s legality may be in question while another effort is completely legal. But I think it’s important, with all of this political rancor, to keep in mind that we all have perspectives and we all have rights. Jumping to conclusions or blindly supporting one side or another is what’s really hurting this country.