Thursday, July 04, 2002

Many are willing to pay for security with liberty

Few oppose erosion of their rights

By Dan Horn,
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Most Americans are willing to give up some freedom this Fourth of July if it helps protect them from terrorists.

        Several recent polls, including one in Greater Cincinnati, show that three out of four people favor limiting civil liberties in exchange for more security.

[photo] A large U.S. flag that hangs over the front entrance of the Cincinnati Museum Center was a gift from Carl Lindner after the Sept. 11 attacks.
(Ernest Coleman photo)
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        Even as they prepare to celebrate liberty and independence today, most Americans seem unconcerned about new laws that give authorities broader power to tap their phones, read their e-mails and monitor their activities.

        They are far more worried about personal safety, with nearly 40 percent in a recent Gallup poll saying they fear becoming victims of terrorism.

        “I put my trust in the government,” said Kyle Schutte, of Mason. “In America, there are tons of liberties. The importance should be on saving lives, rather than giving up a few liberties.”

        A poll this week for WCPO-TV found wide support for that point of view in Greater Cincinnati. Seventy-four percent of those surveyed favor restricting civil liberties to protect the country.

        The poll, conducted by Survey-USA, has a margin of error of plus or minus 4.5 percent.

[photo] Judith Cobb works on a sand sculpture at Kenwood Towne Centre depicting great moments in U.S. history.
(Michael E. Keating photo)
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        A national Gallup poll in June mirrored those results, finding that 78 percent were willing to give up some freedoms to gain security.

        The strong support seems rooted in the fear and patriotism that swept the nation after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks. Several polls have shown that worries about additional attacks have convinced a majority of Americans they must sacrifice certain freedoms.

        Some believe it would be unpatriotic to do otherwise.

        Attorney General John Ashcroft has repeatedly invoked patriotism in his defense of the USA Patriot Act and other government measures that have expanded the powers of law enforcement.

        Do you support restricting civil liberties to fight terrorism?
        “(The government uses) terrorism as a way to take over our civil liberties for other reasons. As far as I'm concerned, we've had too many of our civil liberties taken away.”
— Blaise Morrison, Toledo
    “I think (federal and law authorities) have a job to do. If they didn't tell everyone about the (tactics), they would be blamed. I think they are doing a decent job.”
— Greg Diehl, Mason

    “I put my trust in the government. In America, there are tons of liberties. The importance should be on saving lives, rather than giving up a few liberties.”
— Kyle Schutte, 17, Mason
    “I think they need to be more careful when people come to the country on student visas. But I don't want them to monitor what I take out of the library. ... I don't trust (Attorney General John) Ashcroft.”
Judie Pike, West Chester
    “Anything is worth it.”
Proscovia Mulondo, Mason
    “Because of my foreign look, I don't feel that much comfort. They are taking away too much. (The terrorists) can still pass through (airport) security.”
— Ravi Singh, West Chester     “I haven't noticed anything yet. They aren't going too far, but they probably will.”
John Paul Henderson, Warren, Ohio
    “I think they have a ways to go. They need to listen to people that say things are going to happen. Security needs to be tougher.”
Jamie Edwards, West Chester
    “I can't blame (the government). I really haven't seen many changes.”
— Ali Shawki, 16, West Chester
    Since Sept. 11, the USA Patriot Act and other changes in government policy have put limits on some civil liberties. Some examples:
    • Some records of toxic emissions by private companies are no longer available to the public.
    • Universities must give authorities the names, addresses, grades and disciplinary records of students from a handful of countries, mostly in the Middle East.
    • Authorities no longer need to tell a judge what they are looking for when they tap into a computer user's online activities, e-mail messages or chat room conversations.
    • Law enforcement now has broader authority to tap phone lines and monitor computer activity across state lines.
    • Federal authorities have more power to monitor financial transactions and to seize property or money linked in any way to terrorist activities.
    • Businesses must notify federal authorities if a customer pays them with more than $10,000 cash.
    • Aliens who are “certified” as threats to national security can be detained for unspecified periods, sometimes without access to lawyers.
    • Conversations between terrorist suspects and their lawyers can be monitored by law enforcement.
        “To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics only aid terrorists, for they erode our national unity and diminish our resolve,” Mr. Ashcroft said late last year.

        “They give ammunition to America's enemies, and pause to America's friends.”

        Mr. Ashcroft's critics accuse him of using patriotism as a hammer to crush opposition to the new security measures. But so far, there hasn't been much opposition.

        The Freedom Forum, a First Amendment advocacy group, has commissioned several polls since Sept. 11 that found widespread support for limits on speech.

        One poll showed that 50 percent of Americans think the press enjoys too much freedom, and 68 percent think the media provides too much information about the war on terrorism.

        Another poll showed that 39 percent favor government restrictions on the public performance of comedy routines that might trivialize the Sept. 11 attacks.

        “This is an understandable but worrisome thing to see happen,” said Paul McMasters, the First Amendment ombudsman for the Freedom Forum. “If history is any guide, we will look back and shake our heads that we were so quick to let go of some of our freedoms.”

        Almost always, he said, the government and the American public overreact in times of crisis.

        As early as the 1790s, just 15 years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence, Congress passed the Alien and Sedition Acts to clamp down on immigrants and anti-American speech.

        The attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 prompted the forced internment of Japanese-Americans, and the Cold War led to the deportation of hundreds of suspected communists.

        Mr. Ashcroft and others resent such comparisons. They say the new security measures are not knee-jerk reactions but common-sense responses to a serious foreign threat.

        “I think the American people and the government have responded with amazing restraint,” said Ed Bridgeman, a terrorism expert and criminal justice professor at the University of Cincinnati.

        “I don't see any of the dire predictions of a Big Brother, neo-fascist government coming true.”

        Mr. Bridgeman said it makes sense for the government to more closely monitor potential terrorists. Most of the changes, he said, are designed to streamline the work of law enforcement, not to infringe on anyone's rights.

        Some Americans want the government to do even more.

        “I think they have a ways to go,” said Jamie Edwards, of West Chester. “Security needs to be tougher.”

       Steve Eder of the Enquirer contributed to this report.



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