“Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.” Benjamin Franklin
Since the founding of our nation, the balance between liberty and safety has been delicate. Our history is rife with examples where liberty was sacrificed for temporary safety. From the Alien and Sedition Act in the late 18th century to the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II to the indiscriminate surveillance of Muslim Americans today based solely on their religion, the perceived threat of potential miscreants and anarchists has led us to sacrifice the very values we were trying to protect.
In the post 9/11 era, our government has declared a war on terror. The irony is that terror has declared war on us. I’m not referring to the legitimate threat of Al-Qaeda, but rather to our own internalized fright. Terror’s true victory is not a horrible plot that reaches fruition, but rather a people who cede their liberty and abdicate their commitment to justice for the semblance of safety.
Into this vacuum of fear step political groups and industries looking to profit. For instance, the domestic drone industry is projected to grow to $90 billion in the next decade. The FAA wants to ramp up the licensing of these unmanned surveillance aircraft that fly over U.S. airspace. Drone manufacturers also seek to offer local and state law enforcement officials the ability to add non-lethal weapons to drones, such as tear gas and rubber bullets. While domestic drones could be a valuable tool for public safety officials (e.g., assisting first responders with locating survivors after a natural disaster), the scope and implications of this program are slipping past the radar of most Americans. Will government entities have to obtain a warrant before using a drone to monitor a citizen’s actions? Will domestic drones be weaponized? These questions remain unanswered.
Private companies will also be able to receive permits to fly over our residences, schools, parks, places of worship, and anywhere else we go. With over 10,000 drones expected in our domestic airspace by 2020, one has to wonder if these agents of security will erode freedom and privacy and unwittingly make us less safe. Citizens have successfully prodded officials at the local and state level to enact limits on how drones can be used. Legislation and policies are currently being drafted at the federal level as well. Make your voice heard.
Of course, all of this is just one example of the ongoing tension between freedom and safety. The external debate mirrors our internal struggle in which we seek to balance our biological inclination toward self-preservation with the impulse toward authenticity, free expression of the truth as we experience it, and risk taking for the sake of that truth. Whether the debate is about government surveillance or personal integrity, I hope that we will find a sustainable balance between freedom and safety…and even tip the scales toward freedom.