Saturday, February 04, 2006

What if wiretapping works? :: Posner
Taking civil liberties

Posner, from his essay last week in The New Republic:
The revelation by The New York Times that the National Security Agency (NSA) is conducting a secret program of electronic surveillance outside the framework of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (fisa) has sparked a hot debate in the press and in the blogosphere. But there is something odd about the debate: It is aridly legal. Civil libertarians contend that the program is illegal, even unconstitutional; some want President Bush impeached for breaking the law. The administration and its defenders have responded that the program is perfectly legal; if it does violate fisa (the administration denies that it does), then, to that extent, the law is unconstitutional.
. . .
Ronald Dworkin, the distinguished legal philosopher and constitutional theorist, wrote in The New York Review of Books in the aftermath of the September 11 attacks that "we cannot allow our Constitution and our shared sense of decency to become a suicide pact." He would doubtless have said the same thing about fisa. If you approach legal issues in that spirit rather than in the spirit of ruat caelum fiat iusticia (let the heavens fall so long as justice is done), you will want to know how close to suicide a particular legal interpretation will bring you before you decide whether to embrace it. The legal critics of the surveillance program have not done this, and the defenders have for the most part been content to play on the critics' turf.
I wonder if Posner would likewise argue that freedom of speech can be subjected to a cost benefit analysis. The US State Department seems to think so.

Related: See TigerHawk on freedom of speech and hate speech.
it is impossible to reconcile hate crimes legislation with a principled defense of free speech.


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