Warrantless Wiretapping is Unwarranted

As I have explained in some of my previous blog posts, my attitude toward Barack Obama followed the opposite trajectory of a lot of people. My attitude toward him was pretty unenthusiastic from 2008 to 2010, mainly because during that time he was weak on gay rights. On the heels of him playing a role in ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell,” my view of him softened in late 2010 and 2011. In 2012, I became a staunch Obama supporter once he publicly started favoring marriage equality. I remain as enthusiastic about President Obama as I have ever been. I rank him among the top ten best presidents, and he is my personal favorite, although I consider Abraham Lincoln to probably be objectively the best. One thing I do find odd about liberals who have soured on President Obama is their complaints about his civil liberties record. There seems to be a perception among a lot of social liberals that Obama was somehow supposed to be pro-civil liberties and turned out to be anti-civil liberties. The truth, however, is that there never should have been any illusion that Barack Obama’s civil liberties policy would be much different from Bush’s. When Obama was running in the 2008 general election, and I was supporting him reluctantly to avoid McCain becoming president, I was already well aware of the fact that he had voted to re authorize the Patriot Act. That piece of legislation is, as most of the people critiquing Obama’s civil liberties record will agree, one step short of setting up a police state. So it was no surprise to me that  Obama, upon becoming president, decided to continue the tradition of government flagrantly violating civil liberties in the name of national security. I love President Obama for his gay rights policies, not his civil liberties policies. With that in mind, I want to address the issue of warrantless wiretapping. Warrantless wiretapping is still used by the government, and the ACLU’s fight to stop it has so far been unsuccessful. What, precisely, is wrong with warrantless wiretapping? The reason that warrants are traditionally required for searches by police is to make sure that people are not being searched without probable cause. If police were allowed to search people’s houses at their discretion, there would be a serious risk that they would search anyone they thought could possibly be guilty, even if there was not actually strong evidence of guilt. Requiring a warrant helps reduce the likelihood that an innocent person will be searched on a whim, because police must make a strong case that their suspect is likely guilty. The same principle demonstrates why it is so important to also require the federal government to obtain a warrant before wiretapping a suspected terrorist’s phone. Without a warrant, the government can start wiretapping people on a whim. I realize that giving up civil liberties may make us safer in a sense. But in the case of giving up essential, natural rights to reduce the likelihood of suffering another terrorist attack is a case of the cure being as bad as the disease. A totalitarian regime with no civil liberties, a la North Korea, would probably significantly reduce the chance of a terrorist attack. Yet I do not want such regime, and I suspect few Americans do. Unfortunately, a path to that sort of regime is the slippery slope the United States gets on when our government claims the right to spy on people without accountability.


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