With the ghastly scenes of 9/11 still excruciatingly fresh, the vast majority of Americans were ready to put security ahead of the right to privacy in late September 2001.
Eight out of 10 people in a national poll agreed that we would have to “give up some personal freedoms to make the country safe from terrorist attacks.”
More than half favored the idea of national electronic identity cards.
We didn’t go as far as ID cards. But we’re still searching for the right balance between liberty and security.
Within months of the attack, Congress had passed the controversial Patriot Act, expanding the government’s surveillance powers, and established the Transportation Security Administration, setting the stage for far more intrusive airport screening.
Americans have been queasy about how far the Patriot Act goes — and the way the FBI abused it by getting thousands of records without a judge’s approval.
But there remains strong bipartisan support for the major provisions of the law. Congress passed a four-year extension in May, which President Barack Obama immediately signed.
The TSA’s airport screening is the average person’s most close-up-and-personal experience of the liberty/security trade-offs.
There’s a backlash when we think it’s overreaching. (Remember the flap over an elderly woman’s adult diaper?)
The reaction to back-scatter X-ray machines, the recently introduced “electronic strip search,” says a lot about where we see the balance point these days.
Many of us were dubious at first, some protested vehemently, and now, when we’re asked to go through the machines, most of us are willing to do it.
The Arizona Republic, Phoenix (Sept. 7)