Opinion

Costs

By Dave Buffington

Right now, all the news out of Washington is about the “fiscal cliff,” an absolutely artificial, truly farcical deadline that was cooked up to avoid making any hard decisions a year ago and will certainly be solved by pushing off any hard decisions for another year or so.

In short, nothing has changed.

But behind the scenes, something important is changing … your right to keep your emails, text messages and other modern communications private right here in Sun Country.

Under the Electronic Communications Privacy Act, now moving through the U.S. Congress, cops will have to get a search warrant to rummage through your electronic thoughts.

“We believe law enforcement should use the same standard to search your inbox that they do to search your home,” said a spokesperson for the American Civil Liberties Union.

I agree.

But I also understand that our privacy has a price.

Criminals do use electronic means, particularly text messages, to conduct their criminal enterprises.

Cops do have legitimate reasons for wanting to see those messages.

And by making it harder for the cops to see those messages, it will make it easier for the criminals to commit crimes.

Rights have costs.

That’s not a new notion.

“Better that 10 guilty persons escape than that one innocent suffer,” said English jurist William Blackstone.

And Benjamin Franklin supposedly upped the ante, saying, “It is better 100 guilty persons should escape than that one innocent person should suffer.”

That’s why we have the right to counsel, protections against being held without being charged and a prohibition on being charged with the same crime twice.

All of which protect the innocent. All of which have let criminals go free.

Indeed, all rights have costs.

For example, we have freedom of the press. The cost? The embarrassment of seeing your kid’s name in the Police News.

We have freedom of religion. The cost? Hate crimes and cult massacres. (And believe me, there are plenty of people who think your religion is a cult.)

We have the freedom to bear arms. The cost? Tragedies like the Kansas City murder- suicide. (But if you genuinely care about reducing violence – as opposed to standing on a soapbox and scoring political points – start by railing against car violence, which claims 30,000 innocent Americans each year.)

It’s a balancing act, I know, but when I’m doing the balancing, I’m always tipping the scales toward liberty.

Or as Franklin also said, “They who can give up liberty to obtain safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.”


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