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December 24, 2005

“There Is Fear Mongering On Both Sides. Only the Fears Differ.”

The above quote is taken from an interesting chat dialogue with Judge Richard Posner hosted by the WaPo, allowing the public to query him in relation to his Wednesday Op-Ed examining the recent N.S.A revelations.

I think it’s worth of a read because, well, it’s Posner, and he brings his usual bruising ‘brain in a box’ Spock mentality to the issue, refusing, as you might expect, to treat civil liberties as some sacrosanct marshland preserve where human rights must be allowed frolic and reproduce lest they go extinct.

The full thing's here, but, because its Chrismas and all, I’ll give you a taste:

Richard Posner:…Are you worried about having a conversation of yours […] recorded in a government database? Suppose that unbeknownst to you your neighbor is a terrorist, and you happen to mention his name in the conversation. A government computer picks up the name and learning from your conversation where he lives, arrests him.
Would such an episode bother you? If so, why?

Annandale, Va.: ...[Y]es, it would bother me.

It greatly bothers me that my communication is searched without authority, no matter who it captures. If the government is on the lookout for someone, they can choose to broadcast that (like the FBI lists at my local post office), and I, as a citizen, can choose whether or not to cooperate in the government's investigation.

In your hypothesis, everyone becomes an agent of the government, whether they approve or not. I am not as learned as you, but from my public school education, it was instilled in me the notion that the government is an agent of the people, not the other way around. If we choose not to help the government in its investigations, we may do so.

Richard Posner: If it would bother you, that is certainly a reason not to permit the kind of data mining that I described. But it is not a conclusive reason--even for you. You have to consider what might be lost by forbidding that kind of data mining. What might be lost might be an opportunity to prevent a repetition of the 9/11 attacks, or indeed something far worse. What weight would you give to such a possibility?

Whether or not you agree Posner would achieve the proper balance, you gotta credit him for recognizing there are two sides.

Also, it’s an interesting read for the way Posner carries himself. As usual when I read the guy, I get the impression of a powerful drill bit, relentlessly boring his way through the hardened, accepted group-think that’s built up around an issue, slowly making his way to its very center.

Here, he’s debating a crowd constitutionally incapable of using the words public safety without scare quotes and keeps making calm, reasoned insights in the face of near hysteria.

Again, you can disagree with him, but this guy pulls off “public intellectual” better than anyone walking that stage today.

(h/t Betsy’s Page )

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posted by Dr. Reo Symes at 06:57 PM

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