It’s bad, but not a new issue

U.S. rates travelers for terror risk (Yahoo!)
11-30-2006

 

Anytime the government has a program that secretly labels people there is potential both for injurious mistakes and for deliberate abuse.  Therefore it is absolutely essential, and should be mandatory, that both the Legislative and Judicial branches of our government carefully scrutinize such programs of the Executive Department, particularly when the programs can constrain the rights of our own citizens. 

 

But while the details of the program may be new, the public record contains a long history of past programs that have been challenged in the past.  Court cases have disclosed that some citizens have suffered unfairly from both honest mistakes and harassments.  The FBI file on Martin Luther King is but one famous example.  Another is President Nixon’s infamous "enemies list."

 

Our legal system is based on the principle that it is better to let a criminal go free than to convict an innocent person.  Assuming that we do get measurable protection against criminals and terrorists from this screening program, someone other than the Executive Branch needs to ask, "does the end justify the means?"  Is the harm that undoubtedly will be done to some innocent individuals offset by the putative additional protection provided to the rest of us? 

 

In addition to the harm to innocent individuals, when we allow a departure from our historic civil liberties protections, it may make it easier in the future for further erosion to occur, particularly if someone who wants to be a dictator gets into office.  Our courts and elected representatives need to consider this too.

 

What I find particularly troubling about this latest challenge to civil liberties is that the Executive Branch, perhaps as part of its desire to "restore" the power of the Presidency, seems either to not be aware of the history of such issues or to not care about prior resolutions.

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