Views on Surveillance May Depend on Degree of Responsibility
posted by Lawrence Cunningham
In the uproar over the U.S. surveillance program, at first it is not easy to classify the sides. One-time lefty veep Al Gore is horrified by the program while the young right-winger Rand Paul fulminates about it as an “assault on the Constitution.” The seasoned Democrat Diane Feinstein calmly defends the program as lawful, authorized by three branches of government in different ways; the ACLU responds that this a pox on all the branches. The editors of the New York Times are outraged by the governmental excesses (a “dragnet”) while the White House demurs. The press and blogosphere are viral, though it is too soon to gauge the public’s net view (something that in any event can be opaque or fickle,e.g. this and this).
I admit being torn about the correct policy in this situation, the balance between privacy and security, or even how to think about their relationship if there is not a trade-off. But reading the papers and reports in the fury of this moment, one salient feature that seems to divide the viewpoints is the degree to which a person is in a position of responsibility for government administration. It is a lot easier for those without such responsibility to criticize governmental actions. If a terrorist slips through the cracks, blame will not be assigned to bloggers, journalists, policy wonks, citizens, former government officials or even disgruntled government officials who do not believe in government. Blame will be assigned to, and the burden of guilt borne by, those in office who believe that government has some responsibility to protect the country.