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Liberty must always supersede security

| Wednesday, September 28, 2016

A couple of weeks ago, Oliver Stone’s new film “Snowden” was released in theaters throughout the United States. I have not had the opportunity to see the film yet, but I hope it can revive necessary discussion about government surveillance and the sanctity of personal liberty. After all, as November approaches and I evaluate each of the major party’s candidates, I have little faith that either of them places much value on the individual liberties of the average American citizen.

Edward Snowden’s story is perhaps one of the most inspiring American tales of our day. While many may label him a traitorous villain, Snowden sacrificed nearly everything in the effort to protect millions of Americans’ God-given rights. He did so because, like the Founding Fathers and countless Americans, Snowden believed we should never sacrifice personal liberty for perceived security.

Despite what the National Security Agency may tell you, giving up individual liberty in exchange for perceived security is extremely dangerous and antithetical to the very founding principles of this nation. When the NSA was exposed as collecting innocent Americans’ phone records, they were not only violating the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, but also placing the citizenry at the will of the government. Instead of receiving the consent of the people, as any arm of the government must do, the NSA unilaterally decided that Americans were going to sacrifice their right to privacy. The Founding Fathers would turn in their graves at such a rejection of the Constitution and of democracy itself.

Many will claim that the NSA, while having information on millions of innocent citizens, never acted nefariously with such information. This assertion is disingenuous, as there is evidence the NSA was using the information to aid in domestic policing and there are even many accounts of NSA employees spying on ex-lovers. However, even had the NSA not abused the information, there would have still been a need to condemn the agency. A government agency having unwarranted access to the private information of millions of Americans is in and of itself a crime. There is no reason we should place our full faith in the prudence of a large government agency with access to a broad range of private information. Edward Snowden once said that it is akin to someone holding a gun to your head and saying “Trust me, I won’t pull the trigger.”

Feeling apathetic towards an encroachment upon any of our liberties is extremely dangerous. Liberty is such a precious good that we should protect it against any attempts of infringement. Martin Luther King Jr. once said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I believe the same holds true for liberty. A repression of liberty anywhere is a threat to liberty everywhere. It is my hope that Americans never give up their right to privacy out of fear or apathy, because that will be the starting point for the deterioration of protected liberty as we know it.

Living in a truly free society involves accepting risk. Eliminating all security threats could only be achieved through the elimination of all liberty. We should never buy into the delusion that security can be paid for with our liberty. Our liberty is, as the Declaration of Independence says, an “unalienable right.” It should not, and cannot, be taken from us, under any circumstances.

The nation has made impressive steps towards curtailing the systemic invasion of privacy carried out by our government. Parts of the Patriot Act have been halted and many politicians from both parties seem to have come out against the behavior of the NSA. However, the conversation must not stop there. We must constantly remind ourselves of the immeasurable value of liberty and never stop preventing our government from stripping away such a sacred blessing.

Eddie is a sophomore from Orland Park, Illinois. He is majoring in Economics and Political Science and considering pursuing law school after his time as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame. He can be reached at edamstra@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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About Eddie Damstra

Eddie is a junior from Orland Park, Illinois. He is majoring in Economics and Political Science with a minor in Constitutional Studies and plans on pursuing law school after his time as an undergraduate at the University of Notre Dame.

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  • KD

    “giving up individual liberty in exchange for perceived security is extremely dangerous and antithetical to the very founding principles of this nation.” Perhaps the author forgets that government consists of individuals surrendering some liberty for increased security. Moreover our nation was founded by joining together very different colonies who had to first join together to fight a revolution against the British and then surrender some liberty to a united federal government. Of course, we should be wary of surrendering any liberty for security (especially illegal security measures), but it’s not the case that the ideal mix is all liberty and no security.