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Connecting-the-Dots, Data Mining and the Loss of Real Civil Liberties

In the run up to the 2004 election I debated a very left-wing professor who went on and on about how the Patriot Act was essentially a reincarnation of Gestapo or KGB tactics. I responded that I was of course concerned about individual liberties and the unfettered power of the state, but that in the post-9/11 world there is a balancing act between liberty and security, and that I would be more sympathetic to critics of the Patriot Act if they could point to specific cases of abuse. Show me the real alive Jane and Joe Americans who have had their liberties violated in some grotesque manner by the Patriot Act. Needless to say, the professor moved on.

I ask the same question today to the bloggers and pundits out there who are hyperventilating over the latest revelation that our security agencies are actually trying to do their job. Many of the people decrying these violations of civil liberties are the same ones who ripped the government for its inability to "connect-the-dots" prior to 9/11.

But the paranoia on the left, and in particular, the hatred for the Bush administration has become so intense there is an automatic assumption that the NSA has to be engaging in nefarious activity, spying on you and your neighbor. The idea that the agency is thinking creatively and proactively about how they can legally monitor the bad guys instead of just going about business as usual is, apparently, out of the question for some. The sad truth is it is probably going to take another devastating attack to convince many in this country that we are actually at war against Islamic jihadists.

That is something true civil libertarians should think long and hard about. The more vigilant we are today in preventing attacks, the more it will pay off in spades in terms of protecting our civil liberties in the future. Because if this country gets hit with a small nuke and 30,000 or 100, 000 Americans die, all of the debating will be over. The ensuing crackdown will be massive, and the loss of REAL civil liberties will become very, very possible.