Trading Liberty For Security?

Part of the new FBI reorganization gives them a very large deal of latitude in searching out leads into terrorism, including easier ability to search religous groups like mosques and the ability to more closely monitor the Internet without a warrant. While some privacy advocates will almost certainly cry foul, these changes seem to be more or less common sense changes. One wonders why an FBI agent couldn’t go into a chatroom where bomb-making is being discussed without a warrant before? After all, it’s not an invasion of privacy when information is being flung around IRC where anyone could concievably listen in any way. E-mail is the same, anyone can read your e-mail if they’re technically proficient enough to try, so the expectation of privacy is mostly misplaced. It’s also clear that allowing FBI field directors to be able to begun terrorism investigations will prevent the kind of botched efforts that came from the Pheonix and Minneapolis field offices before September 11. If this rule had been in place then, it’s possible that the al-Qaeda cell could have been uncovered before they had the chance to strike.

Yet at the same time, knowing the kind of breaches of the public trust that occurred during the last administration, there’s quite a lot to be worried about. There are some concerns about the FBI overstepping their bounds in pursuit of leads on terrorism. It’s clear that there need to be some kind of basic legal protections to ensure that the FBI uses these new powers judiciously. Balancing the needs of security with those of personal liberty may be a necessary task in the wake of September 11, but it will not be easy.