Saturday, May 13, 2006

On NSA Spying, Polls and Civil Rights: Your Mom is Right

Much of the chatter (and obfuscation to my thinking) about the recent revelation of the vast extent of the NSA domestic spying program has been focused on a Washington Post poll saying that 2/3rds of Americans approve of it.

And while one can argue over the validity of the polls, point out conflicting polls, question methodology and phraseology, in some cases it just doesn't matter.

The thing about polls though is that sometimes they don't, or at least shouldn't matter, especially when basic rights are at stake, like, for example, the 4th amendment's requirement of probable cause.

I believe Billmon has the right of it:

The whole point of having civil liberties is that they are not supposed to be subject to a majority veto. Hobbes may not have believed in natural rights, but our founders did. And their opponents, the anti-Federalists, were even more zealous about restraining the powers of the federal superstate, which is why they forced the Federalists to write the Bill of Rights directly into the Constitution.

It defeats the purpose of having a 4th Amendment if its validiity is entirely dependent on breaking 50% in the latest poll. It would be nice to have "the people" on our side in this debate, and obviously a lot of them are, even if Doherty's plurality still prefers Leviathan's crushing embrace. But some things are wrong just because they're wrong -- not because a temporary majority (or even a permanent one) thinks they're wrong.

Or as my mom might put it, just because everyone's doing it doesn't make it right.

Thank you mom.

Happy Mother's Day.

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