By Rachel Leland
America’s founding principles of liberty and equality have guided our nation’s path from 1776 to the present day. These principles took us to revolution and war. Their promise drove freedom fighters to America’s streets to demand that the state recognize the same rights of non-landowners, minorities and women. Though our nation has more ground to cover before we can truly be called an egalitarian society, it is clear, to the credit of brave Americans who dared fight for equality, we have made significant strides in the past two centuries.
But what about liberty? If we care about liberty we must understand the science of liberty. Liberty is the physical process of persons being able to make decisions for their own lives without domination or coercion. Most importantly, liberty is the emerging property of a society that values freedom and builds checks and balances to ensure its survival.
The founders designed the Bill of Rights to protect the liberty of the people lest the state attempt to trample or erode those freedoms. They drafted these first 10 amendments in a time where the abuses of a former ruling state were still fresh in the revolutionaries’ mind. Our nation’s founders had good reason to view powerful organizations like the state with cynicism.
The Fourth Amendment remains one of the most crucial preservers of our freedoms. The Fourth Amendment charges that the state needs specific warrants for individuals before they can search or seize our communications. These warrants must be made with probable cause. Prior to the American Revolution, the British Crown enacted “writs of assistance,” which were general search warrants that allowed the state to break down someone’s door and go through their stuff, including their letters and documents, without giving any prior justification.
It is often that during a crisis the state seizes powers that the people would not grant under other circumstances. In the wake of 9/11, Congress passed the Patriot Act with the intention of using new powers to prevent another attack on American soil. Years after it was passed, it has become public knowledge, thanks to Edward Snowden, that a loose interpretation of the Patriot Act has allowed the NSA to monitor all phone calls, Google searches and emails of American citizens as long as they are communicating with a party outside of the United States. That is blatant attack on our rights as Americans and our human dignity. Our security is something that should be taken seriously, but it is not worth sacrificing a free society for. The Global Surveillance files that Edward Snowden leaked show that the NSA used its privilege to spy on foreign companies and even Germany’s chancellor, Angela Merkel. These revelations expose the inconvenient truth that governments are not always honest and that they abuse power if it is in their interests.
Because our nation has yet to succumb to tyranny, it is difficult for many Americans to envision the repercussions of a world without privacy and anonymity. The West fought a “Cold War” for the sake of defeating a tyrannical state that did not acknowledge the right to privacy. My greatest fear is that our own country is headed down a dystopian path to a place where the state will possess the ability to collect all available information about who we are and who we associate with. In fact, we may already be there.
It is bitterly ironic that our government has waged a “War on Terror” in order to protect liberty, yet in pursuit, has compromised our own liberties at home. If we truly love freedom, we must remain vigilant against those who would take our rights away so that liberty and equality do not become nominal niceties, but remain realities that we can enjoy.
Rachel Leland is a sophomore journalism major from Tulsa, Okla. She is a guest columnist for the Lariat.