Which is more important to you - civil liberties or personal security?
What liberties would you sacrifice to live in a more safe and secure world? Or, would you?
Those are questions I ask groups I talk with on First Amendment issues. Since Sept. 11, 2001, those questions are ones Americans wrestle with often. After April's Boston Marathon bombing, the questions have taken on added significance again.
After 9-11, U.S. legislators enacted the Patriot Act, giving law enforcement broad, new powers that sometimes infringed on civil liberties. What might Americans expect post-Boston?
A recent Time/CNN poll revealed 61 percent of those polled were more concerned about losing civil liberties in the face of anti-terrorism actions, than the 31 percent who favored stricter measures.
This week Associated Press ran a story about police and politicians around the country pushing for more camera surveillance in public places. In the aftermath of Boston, video footage from cameras provided important details to law enforcement.
Are you willing to live with more cameras in your life?
When it comes to camera surveillance of intersections, the public has resisted. In fact, when police use those cameras to issue traffic tickets, a number of states (Iowa, Ohio and Arizona) have considered doing away with the monitoring. Still, traffic cameras give law enforcement important information of license plate and numbers of people in a vehicle. In some instances, the cameras also could provide facial recognition.
In 1949 George Orwell had published the now classic novel "1984" which talks about a "Big Brother" political system that limits free thinking and independent thought. Opponents to civil liberty limitations often refer to the book in their arguments.
Los Angeles Deputy Chief Michael Downing addressed that point somewhat in the AP story.
"Look, we don't want an occupied state," he said. "We want to be able to walk the good balance between freedom and security. If that helps prevent, deter, but also detect and create clues to who did a crime, I guess the question is can the American public tolerate that type of security."
Exactly. So I ask "Can we?"
Are we OK with more cameras monitoring our movement in public places?
Are we OK with drones monitoring your movements from the sky? The whole issue of domestic use of drones, and whether to limit their use, has been in the news a lot lately. Would they have been helpful in Boston, had they been in use?
What about dogs? For years police have used German shepherds in law enforcement efforts, but other breeds are also effective, especially in bomb detention.
Four days after the Boston bombing 71 percent of Americans polled in a Rasmussen Poll said they believe it was "at least somewhat likely" there would be another terrorist attack in the United States within the next year.
Just as disturbing, only 11 percent believed officials could make our country safe enough to thwart terrorist threats, while 75 percent believed prevention would be impossible.
In the disturbing world we live in today, personal freedoms are butting heads with national security more and more often.
If John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were here today to comment on the situation, I wonder what they'd say regarding the Constitution they crafted.