Viewpoint: Security plans attack liberties

Viewpoint: Security plans attack liberties

By Joe Baker

Security plans attack liberties

By Joe Baker

Senior Editor

In the aftermath of the attacks on New York and Washington, the focus in the country is on security measures. President Bush has created the Office of Homeland Security to oversee domestic security operations.

The effect on Americans’ freedom of movement has been immediate and dramatic. Coolers and backpacks are banned at baseball games, and some parking lots and ramps are closed.

The Golden Gate in San Francisco is shut down, and Reagan Washington National Airport, just three miles from the White House, remains closed, but may open soon with no flights over the Potomac. We have thousands of National Guard troops stepping in to protect the nation’s other airports as well.

Guardsmen also are on station at American ports, at chemical weapons depots, municipal water treatment plants, and aboard commercial airliners. Jet fighters streak through the skies to guard U.S. airspace.

In Manhattan, where soldiers armed with machine guns patrol, office workers headed for Wall Street must clear three check points, and once they enter their buildings, security officers check each and every purse and briefcase. Those without proper identification or security passes are denied entry.

At parking garages, drivers without prepaid parking permits are turned away.

Some experts are saying we’d better get used to being videotaped at public events and prepare for more facial recognition technology.

While the intent of all this is good, what will be the effect on our civil liberties? It is disturbing to see how many Americans are quite willing to give up at least part of those rights in order to feel secure. Wasn’t that what happened in Germany in the 1930s when Hitler came to power?

We may be headed down the same road the British see themselves traveling. The London Times reported that experts there predict the citizenry will have national identity cards in about two years. Talk about Big Brother! Listen to this: these cards could serve as driver’s licenses, credit cards and store cards.

This cute little instrument would be the size of a credit card and would include a computer chip with detailed information about the bearer. It also could contain information on any traffic violations charged to the holder and any warrants outstanding against him or her.

In addition, the card could be linked to your Social Security number and data and could provide health records to certain authorities. If that doesn’t burn you, hear this: the front of this card would have your

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photograph, your name, address, NATIONAL IDENTITY NUMBER and signature. For good measure, a fingerprint (yours) could be put on the face of the card or be stored in the chip, appearing as a barcode.

That code also could contain an iris recognition system which would require the holder to look into an iris reader, while someone in authority of some kind inserts the card into a machine. The machine could be hand-held or wall mounted. Imagine peeking into this contraption when you buy your bacon and spuds.

The chip on the card not only could give details about height and weight but could store information on the color of your eyes or your hair. In this country, we already use some “smart cards” for commercial transactions. It is but a simple step to convert them to national identity cards, and they would be extremely difficult to forge, according to experts.

The British are very reassuring to their people, telling them that each agency, whether government or private, could only access the information that concerns them. Police, for example, could only look at the information on criminal or traffic offenses and nothing else.

A number of countries, including Germany, France and Spain, already have either compulsory or voluntary identity cards.

This may be soothing to British ears, but it does nothing for any American’s anxiety index. What if we get a government that doesn’t like dissenters? The political police would have a field day with these things.

Government might decide to allow only certain individuals across state lines or aboard some means of transportation. The clash between “security” and freedom here is glaring and appalling.

President Bush seems to be aware that there are problems in this area. Washington must find ways to protect us without creating a police state and taking away our liberties. We already are being eyed by those who favor a single government for the entire globe. Of course, they would be that government.

John P. Curran, in a speech in Dublin in 1790, said: “The condition upon which God hath given liberty to man is eternal vigilance.” We let down our guard, and we were damaged. From here on, we must keep alert and maintain a keen and constant vigil, not only on our enemies without, but on well-intentioned, but sometimes misguided citizens within.

We need to tell our legislators that Americans do not wish to be catalogued like so much inventory with national ID numbers. Too much of that has been done already.

We need to let them know that we demand the right to move about as freely as possible without jeopardizing safety, and we don’t want our health information and Social Security data open to anybody’s card reader.

Germany under the Nazis had security and a good economy for a time, but the Fascist state had no freedom. If we don’t wish to travel that road, we must reject loudly the smart card proposal if it crops up here.

Bush’s Office of Homeland Security’s roving wire-tap proposal also leads down this path in the Garden of Good & Evil. If you were a suspect, the FBI/CIA/NSA would only need to get a court order for a wire-tap based on your identity. Wherever you went, that business or home could be wiretapped without the approval of a judge. Think of the far-reaching consequences of that beat-the-bushes approach. The government could listen in on your doctor, lawyer, accountant, minister, father, mother, brother, sister, friends or any associate, as long as you had walked through their door.

Thankfully, Congress is looking at this, and Congress must say “No” to Bush, unless Congress wants its offices tapped as well because a “suspect” might visit their offices, too.

Don’t count on these being temporary measures, either. As P.J. O’Rourke pointed out last Monday night at the Coronado, payroll withholding was an emegency act during WWII that did not go away. “Have you ever seen a law go away?” he asked, adding, “The burden of proof is on them, not us.”

To us, the phrasing of “The Office of Homeland Security” sounds like a product of Nazi Germany’s Minister of Propaganda, Goebbels (Der Fatherland), and O’Rourke said, “The Office of Homeland Security sounds like a failed thrift.”

Let’s save our own liberty, without a government bail-out or heavy hand, and let’s make certain this remains the land of the free.

Editor & Publisher Frank Schier also contributed to this editorial.

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