Monday, December 26, 2005

Fundamental Questions on Warrantless Surveillance

Recently, the New York Times revealed that the government intercepts communications (telephone calls and email) between a person in the U.S. and an Al Qaeda suspect overseas. A few days later, U.S. News and World Report disclosed that the government monitors selected sites (mosques and homes) in the U.S. for radiation that may signal a nuclear bomb. In both programs, which were started after the 9/11 attacks, the government does not first obtain a warrant from a court.

For a moment, forget the legal and political issues, and consider the practical aspects. Then ask yourself the following 2 questions:

1. Which risk do you prefer to take: (a) the government will monitor a communication involving an Al Qaeda suspect overseas that the participants do not want the government to monitor, or (b) the government will not monitor a communication involving an Al Qaeda suspect in which the participants discuss the planning or execution of a terrorist attack in the U.S.?

2. Which risk do you prefer to take: (a) the government will monitor for radiation a place that the occupants do not want monitored, or (2) the government will not a monitor for radiation a place in which the occupants are preparing a nuclear device for a terrorist attack in the U.S.?

These are the fundamental and crucial questions regarding the government programs of warrantless surveillance. At the most basic, as we consider the merits of warrantless surveillance, we are weighing the relative values of a person's right to be left alone versus society's right to protect itself.

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