The Patriot Act

Same topic, different views

By Tim Baldwin and Joe Carbonari

By Tim Baldwin

The Patriot Act is sun-setting soon. The decision of whether to extend, amend or eliminate it is dividing Republican hopefuls for president.

Not surprisingly, Sen. Rand Paul wants to cut a key component: government spying on Americans. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants the spying continued. Siding with McConnell are Sens. Marco Rubio and Lindsey Graham. Sen. Ted Cruz holds a middle position between Paul and McConnell. Sen. Jon Tester expressed approval of Paul’s privacy concerns. Surprisingly, the Republican-controlled House voted to end the bulk collection of phone data but allowed surveillance on an individual basis through court approval – a much more reasonable approach.

Individual privacy is an essential pillar of liberty. As the Montana Supreme Court repeatedly confirms, the Montana Constitution protects privacy more than the U.S. Constitution. Montanans, thus, should pay close attention. Sadly, some people miss this and opine, “if you don’t have anything to hide, government intrusion shouldn’t matter to you.”

Security is important, and government has a role to play. But security comes as much, if not more, from a responsible and free people, not government intrusion. Giving up essential liberties for speculative or remote security destroys our constitution’s foundation.

Lately, Republicans seem to understand this better, thanks to the influence of politicians like Rand Paul and overwhelming public opinion. Hopefully, this positive trend will continue into the 2016 presidential term and beyond.


 

By Joe Carbonari

Is the risk of losing our sense of privacy overbalanced by our risk of terrorist attack? In the case of telephone and internet traffic we have the technology to find out who’s communicating with whom.

We can take it from “who’s talking to a terrorist” to “who’s talking to my wife.” There’s room for a lot of mischief.

To put that power, unchecked, in the hands of a president, and his administration, or anyone else, is unwise. The best check we have is access. Don’t centralize the records but do make it an enforced illegality to cross-run a number without a judicial order. Limit the number of judges so authorized and choose them well. Still, there is risk of the over-friendly assent to access. We tend to favor those who share our values. All the judges involved, at whatever level, are human. They are subject to bias; there will be risks.

Nonetheless, when I think of the responsibility of safeguarding myself, and all others, from a serious terrorist threat, I feel that a small degree of risk is worth it. If the situation was bad enough, the threat truly high, I’d run the numbers, and I’d run them fast. The judge is the doorkeeper. I’d expect the door to be opened most of the time. We face threats that are existential. We should be wise.

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