Surveillance not ideal, but it does help keep us safe
"It has been said that democracy is the worst form of government except all the others that have been tried," British Prime Minister Winston Churchill once said.
And he was right. And his words have shaped how I landed on my decision in this debate. This one has been tough, and I want to take a longer-than-expected closer to explain my decision.
The surveillance conducted by the U.S. government, which this debate revolved around, has yet to be proven illegal by the judiciary. I disagree with Violet Blue on this point. That said, the spirit in which these laws were first ratified has surely been put to test.
I also strongly disagree with David Gewirtz' statement that he or anyone else for that matter has "anything to hide." To me, that's an immature, naïve attitude to take. Everyone has something to hide. We all know that. In reading this very statement, you -- the reader -- immediately thought of "that thing" you would never want anyone to find out. Whether illegal or illicit, morally repugnant or mindlessly insignificant, it makes little difference for the personal value it has to us each respectively. For that, he weakened his argument significantly and gave Blue the edge.
Self state-sanctioned actions are democratically dangerous. They're sketchy in terms of international legality -- most international law doesn't even exist yet -- even if at home they have been authorized in some way, shape or form by lawmakers and elected officials. Laws such as the Patriot Act and FISA allow widespread spying and surveillance on foreign nationals and U.S. citizens alike. Laws like the NDAA allow drone strikes on foreign enemies in third-countries, with or without the permission from those states. The latter puts the U.S. in the league of Russia and Israel, which all but openly admit to assassinating enemies on foreign soil.
These self 'rubber-stamped' actions are directly comparable to the actions of our enemies, albeit often in a more technologically advanced and targeted way. But, above all else, morality and legality, the first role of government is to keep its citizens safe.
And surveillance, when done properly and secretly, is an invasive but unknown force for protecting a state or a nation -- whether we like it or not.
Sometimes governments have to get their hands dirty. Not all, but some. Some remain in the terrorism spotlight and have a prominent presence on the world stage. Norway and Finland, not so much, more so the U.K. and the U.S., along with other allied nations that have fought in coalition during recent Middle Eastern conflicts.
Surveillance is not ideal, but it does help keep us safe because if it prevents just one attack out of a hundred, by definition it works. For every one successful "terrorist" attack (define this as you will, there are dozens of definitions in use) there are a hundred that are prevented. On the whole, modern democracies have to carefully strike this balance and open themselves up to open scrutiny -- something both debaters agreed on.
But in democracy we have freedoms, too. A balance is struck, and when that balance eases on one side over another, the judiciary aims to balance it out again. And as long as government is monitored itself by the press, the politicians and the people, it can prevent a slip that could shift a democracy to a totalitarian regime.
Despite Gewirtz's occasional tone -- thanks for that, by the way -- I'm going with our resident government blogger on this occasion. It was a fine debate, and I personally thank the two sincerely for this. Blue made some excellent points and personally, I agree with her. But I think in hindsight, despite my personal and moral objection to it, Gewirtz won the debate question the moment he chose that side.