At the Boston Globe, former senator John E. Sununu (R-N.H.) has an opinion column about civil liberties and security:
FEW QUOTES are as well worn as Ben Franklinâ€™s admonition that, â€œThose who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.â€™â€™ And perhaps no quote is better suited to this monthâ€™s debate to extend several provisions of the Patriot Act. These anti-terror tools for law enforcement, first passed in 2001, are scheduled to expire May 27. The reauthorization wonâ€™t generate front-page news â€” the president canâ€™t be excited about a photo-op signing the Patriot Act. But it remains one of the few debates that the framers might recognize even after 235 years.
Five years have passed since I led a small group of Republicans in a bipartisan filibuster to stop the first Patriot Act reauthorization. What ensued was six weeks of grinding negotiations yielding a handful of changes to strengthen protections for civil liberties. Like any compromise, we didnâ€™t win every change we pursued, but the fact that the debate was carried so far was a victory in itself. […]
Then and now, the partisan core on both sides failed to recognize that the debate over protecting civil liberties isnâ€™t about whether you trust Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or Eric Holder or any other elected official; itâ€™s about whether we have effective protections in place no matter who might hold positions of responsibility in the future. […]
Protecting individual liberty was central to the foundersâ€™ vision of carefully proscribed and limited state power. […]
Although todayâ€™s debate is tepid by comparison, there are efforts afoot to further strengthen some of these protections. Ironically, Senator Mike Lee of Utah, the Tea Partier characterized by the left as a rubber-stamp ideologue, has shown the greatest willingness to cross party lines. He joined with Democrats to strengthen the standard for identifying targets of roving wiretaps; that provision will be included in the bill on the Senate floor this month.
The Patriot Act may be here to stay, but a meaningful debate exposes the broader question at stake: How much individual liberty are we willing to give up in the name of national security? And by extension, how much money, time â€” and dignity â€” are we willing to sacrifice in the name of safety? No world can be perfectly secure; and the hands of time cannot be turned back. But we can and should aspire to live in a country where we specify eavesdropping targets, require judicial review of subpoenas, and allow children to board airplanes without being frisked.