Just Curious

Please state the answer in the form of a question... Just Curious is the occassional blog of Andrew Nelson. In an attempt to balance the polemical tone of most of the blogosphere, all entries hope to pose at least one useful question. Many entries simply advance useful memes. Personal entries may abandon the interrogative conceit.

Friday, June 30, 2006

why aren't more people saying this? (subtext: isn't this how most people feel about anti-terrorism measures?)

...probably because it's reasonable.

The always fair-minded Richard Clarke points out in this Times op-ed that neither side in the controversy of the Bush administration's secret bank-monitoring program really has much to say. Violation of our privacy? Financial transactions have long been monitored for criminal activity. Press accounts tipping off terrorists? What villain worth his twirly mustache wouldn't already assume that his calls, bank accounts, etc. are being monitored?

There's no question that after 9/11, we needed to rethink certain limitations on law enforcement, particularly regarding the sort of gathering and sharing of data that might have prevented the attacks. This is a discussion we still need to have. Most people rightly fear government "fishing expeditions" for data. Yet we all recognize the utility of searchable databases (if you use Google) and we voluntarily submit information to such databases all the time (again, if you use Google). If Congress held hearings on this sort of thing rather than symbolic nonsense, we might come up with some reasonable standards that protect useful programs (like this banks one) and bar dangerous ones (like wire-tapping).

But the real problem with the Bush administration is that it sees no need to consult us. It does not see the legal need, as its regular dismissal of Congress shows. But it also does not see the cultural need to have an open discussion of such issues in the press. Conservatives, by temperament and by political necessity, should be well-suited to lead such a discussion of how to balance privacy and national security. The ambivalent poll data surrounding programs like wire-tapping (I believe a fair statement of the average opinion would be, "It might be okay if it really does catch terrorists and doesn't hurt innocent people.") shows that this is a discussion the country wants to have. But the current GOP, sorry excuses as leaders and as conservatives, wouldn't even know how to start.

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