[Note from Matthew Gaylor: Again more defeatist compromising
commentary. Reason Magazine's contributing editor Cathy Young
writes: "Do I like the idea of people being able to encrypt
electronic communications so that they are beyond surveillance?
Frankly, I found it scary even before Sept. 11 - precisely because of
the threat of terrorism. It is said that there are no atheists in
foxholes; perhaps there are no true libertarians in times of
terrorist attacks. Even in the Declaration of Independence, the
right to liberty is preceded by the right to life." In this case I
found Cypherpunk Tim May's <email@example.com> sarcastic comment right on
the money. Tim writes: "Between Cato arguing for victim disarmament
and Reason arguing that "right to liberty is preceded by the right to
life," I say we just kill them all and let Rand sort them out." If
you find Ms. Young's comments against encryption disturbing please
write to Nick Gillespie <firstname.lastname@example.org> Editor-in-Chief of
Reason Magazine and David Nott <email@example.com> President, Reason
September 24, 2001
Civil liberties may take a hit
By Cathy Young
It's such a cliche to say that the reality hasn't sunk in yet -- but
it's true. Despite all the devastating images, part of me still
doesn't belive that the Twin Towers are no more, or that the station
where I have so often arrived in downtown New York by local train
station from New Jersey lies under a pile of rubble, or that
thousands are dead in what is unquestionably the most devastating
terrorist act ever committed, not just on American soil but anywhere.
And there are so many other cliches that come so easily right now and
that are true: above all, that the world will never be the same.
As always, there are those who would exploit an unthinkable tragedy
for their own hateful agendas. On the left, a few commentators, such
as filmmaker-activist Michael Moore, have found this a good time to
decry the sins of American capitalism and US foreign policy for which
we are supposedly being punished by the world's dispossessed.
On the right, a few so-called men of God have found this a good time
to decry the "wickedness" of gays and lesbians, feminists, the
American Civil Liberties Union, and abortion providers, for which we
are supposedly being punished by the Lord.
So far, however, the divisive rhetoric isn't finding many takers.
Americans are united in mourning and just anger. The way we have come
together to help and support those affected by the horror of last
week's bombings shows us at our best as a people.
And yet moments of national unity and resolve are always of concern
to those of us who are concerned with the expanding powers of the
state and the fate of individual rights and civil liberties.
Historically, individual freedom has not fared well in wartime,
understandably so. And whatever military action we may take at the
moment, one of the fears is that a war against terrorism may be, at
least for the foreseeable future, a permanent war.
There are libertarians who say that it doesn't have to be that way.
They argue that, if our government only withdrew from meddling in
regions where we have no real interest, stop playing global
policeman, and limited itself to providing for a national defense
against foreign attack, we wouldn't be a terrorist target.
Alas, this is a myopic position. Aside from whether a 21st century
democracy can survive in isolation, the sort of people who carried
out this monstrous act hate us for much more than our foreign policy.
Note that their targets included not only the Pentagon and
(apparently) Capitol Hill or the White House, but the World Trade
Center - a symbol and a bastion of international capitalism, not of
US military power.
Philosopher David Kelley, director of the Objectivist Center, makes
this point eloquently in an essay on the center's Web site, "The
Assault on Civilization." (which strikes a chord whether or not one
shares the center's philosophy, based on the writings of Ayn Rand).
The fanatics behind the bombings, Kelley writes, hate the West's
cultural power most - "our secular culture of freedom, reason, and
the pursuit of happiness. They hate our individualism; what they want
is an authoritarian society where thought and behavior are controlled
by true believers."
We could stay out of world affairs and they would still hate and fear
What to do, then?
To sacrifice our freedoms to fear of terrorism would destroy the very
way of life that we seek to protect and hand the terrorists a
victory. On the other hand, a free society is not a suicide pact.
We will undoubtedly have to put up with tougher security at airports.
The movements of foreign visitors will be scrutinized more closely.
Perhaps most alarming to many civil libertarians, it's likely that
the government will expand its ability to monitor electronic mail,
which has been a controversial issue for some time.
Do I like the idea of the government intercepting e-mail? No. But, as
long as there's judicial oversight and due process, that's no
different from its longstanding power to intercept regular mail.
Do I like the idea of people being able to encrypt electronic
communications so that they are beyond surveillance? Frankly, I found
it scary even before Sept. 11 - precisely because of the threat of
It is said that there are no atheists in foxholes; perhaps there are
no true libertarians in times of terrorist attacks.
Even in the Declaration of Independence, the right to liberty is
preceded by the right to life.
Cathy Young is a contributing editor to REASON. This column appeared
in the Boston Globe on September 19, 2001.
Distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in
receiving the included information for research and educational purposes.
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