Detroit Free Press Editorial
September 23, 2001


On Wiretaps: Nation Must Not Set Aside Important Personal Rights So Easily


The fact that the liberal left and the conservative right have found common concern ought to give Congress pause about rushing pell-mell to invade privacy and reduce civil liberties in pursuit of terrorists.

There are surveillance laws that probably should be updated to reflect modern telecommunications and the widespread use of the Internet. There is room to do this within constitutional boundaries. No such authority should be extended without the approval of a judge, and not on the "blank check" basis being sought for search warrants, which amounts to: Just let us look and we'll tell you later what we found.

On matters of such fundamental rights, Congress should not act solely on the pronouncements of Attorney General John Ashcroft about the needs of law enforcement. There's another side -- about the rights of American citizens -- to be heard.

As Benjamin Franklin once observed, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

The Senate set a risky precedent last week when, without even a committee hearing, it passed a bill to expand federal wiretap authority. If Congress insists on such a fast track, any laws passed in the name of national security and counterterrorism should be stamped with a sunset date, so they may be more appropriately reviewed in a year, hopefully in a less-tense atmosphere.

We'd all like to feel a little more secure in these uncertain times. But that means secure in our fundamental rights, too. Rights surrendered are not easily regained.

Copyright 2001, Detroit Free Press. All rights reserved.

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