Horrible Choices Don't Make Us More Secure

By Professor David Rudenstine, Guest Columnist

January 29, 2016 via Orlando Sentinel - After the attacks in Paris and San Bernardino, Calif., late last year, one might have a powerful inclination to give a green light to government surveillance hoping that such surveillance would detect terrorist plots before more people are murdered. That inclination would be based on the assumption that government surveillance programs make us safe.

Unfortunately, no one outside the government can say that surveillance programs have actually helped disrupt terrorists because National Security Agency programs are classified, including how law-enforcement officials use NSA surveillance reports.

But still, those inside the government claim that surveillance programs are essential to protecting Americans at home and abroad. That was the position of NSA Director General Keith Alexander, who stated that unauthorized disclosure of the telephone metadata collection program in 2013 "caused 'significant and irreversible damage to our nation.'"

Many of us might feel a powerful inclination to trust Alexander. After all, he is trusted by the most senior of government officers to protect Americans.

But history teaches caution about granting government officials a blank check of trust. Recall President Truman's seizure of steel mills in 1952 to avert a labor strike, claiming it was critical to protecting the nation's steel production because of its importance in producing armaments for U.S. troops then fighting in Korea. After the Supreme Court ruled the seizure unconstitutional, a labor-union strike ensued, but there was no steel shortage.

Read more of Professor Rudenstine's op-ed in the Orlando Sentinel.