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 Franklin’s admonition that, “Those who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety.’’ And perhaps no quote is better suited to this month’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 won’t generate front-page news — the president can’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 didn’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 isn’t about whether you trust Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or Eric Holder or any other elected official; it’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 founders’ vision of carefully proscribed and limited state power. […]
Although today’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 — and dignity — 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.