A Vote for Privacy is a Vote for Security

ACLU Blog

By Matthew Harwood — November 22, 2013

It couldn't be more black or white than this: "Spy on me, I'd rather be safe."

That was the proposition before two teams of debaters at the Intelligence Squared U.S. debate held Wednesday night in Washington, D.C. Defending the proposition were two former homeland security officials Richard Falkenrath and Stewart Baker. Opposing the motion were the ACLU's very own Senior Policy Counsel Michael German and Georgetown Law Professor David Cole.

By the end of the debate, the civil libertarians decidedly ruled the day, moving 21 percent of the audience to their side and achieving a 62 percent majority against the proposition, "Spy on me, I'd rather be safe."

There's something to take from this, even if you dismiss it as wonky fun. When pro-surveillance advocates are pitted against civil libertarians who not only argue against dragnet surveillance on principle but because it simply doesn't work, the fear wanes and people see mass surveillance for what it is: unconstitutional and un-American.

As German, a former undercover FBI agent, made clear, the idea that a balance must be struck between liberty and security is a false choice. The procedural safeguards—such as reasonable suspicion and probable cause—that govern how government agents do their jobs doesn't only protect our liberties and privacy, it makes them better investigators who better protect the public from violent threats.

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