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Americans Say Civil Liberties Trump Terror Threats, Politicians Don’t Care

Secruity Liberty

According to a one new poll, Americans believe that protecting civil liberties are important enough that the shouldn’t be trumped by threats of terrorism:

Americans would appear to agree with Congress’ latest efforts to limit the scope of its anti-terrorism efforts, with more than six in 10 saying that the federal government should take steps to prevent terrorism but not violate civil liberties, according to a Gallup poll released Wednesday.

Among all Americans surveyed, 65 percent prioritized civil liberties over counterterrorism efforts, compared with 30 percent who said that the government should take all steps necessary to prevent acts of terror, even if that infringes on civil liberties.

Gallup conducted the survey after the USA Freedom Act, which pulled back the government’s ability to collect bulk communications data, was passed by Congress and signed into law by President Barack Obama.

Among those identifying as liberal, 48 percent said government efforts violate civil liberties, compared with 41 percent of moderates and 38 percent of conservatives.

On a partisan level, 40 percent of Democrats and leaners said those efforts run roughshod over their rights, compared with 42 percent of Republicans and leaners.

The results stand in contrast to those from January 2002, just four months after the 9/11 attacks. Even then, however, Americans were at most split over how the federal government should stop future attacks.

At that time, 47 percent of Americans said that government should prioritize anti-terrorism efforts, compared with 49 percent who still showed a greater concern for civil liberties.

For those of us who have been concerned about the extent to which civil liberties have been pushed to the wayside in the name of “security” in the fourteen years since the September 11th attacks, this is at least some good news. During that entire time period, the American people have been told by most of their political leaders that they have to accept everything from the warrantless wiretapping authorized by the Patriot Act and the mostly pointless intrusions that air travelers face from the TSA to the National Security Agency’s metadata surveillance program that was only revealed when Edward Snowden went public. We must accept all of this, they claim, because of the supposed threats to our nation even though there’s never been any evidence that, say, the powers granted to law enforcement under the Patriot Act have every actually stopped a terrorist attack.. In fact, the law has been used more in cases that have nothing to do with terrorism at all than it has in investigations that actually have anything to do with terrorist threats. Furthermore, there’s the fact nearly all of the terror-related arrests in the past decade have involved people who were colluding with someone who turned out to be either an FBI agent or an FBI informant. None of this is to discount the idea that there are threats to the nation, of course. The September 11th attacks and the Boston Marthon bombing both show that there is. However, using that threat as an excuse to hand over more power to the government is the oldest excuse in the book, and it’s at least somewhat heartening that, according to this poll at least, the American people have not fallen for it.

In reality, of course, the outcome of the 2016 election is likely to guarantee that the views of Americans who are concerned about civil liberties will largely be ignored. The only Republican candidate for President who has expressed even the slightest concern for the civil liberties implications of what has been done “for” us since the September 11th attacks is Rand Paul and he is unlikely to be the Republican Party’s Presidential Nominee. On the Democratic side, Hillary Clinton is firmly in the same camp on these issues as President Obama has been, and his policy on these issues has been largely indistinguishable from his predecessor in that area. Perhaps at some point the American people will hold their politicians responsible for these actions, but don’t expect it to happen any time soon.

Photo: By Steinman at en.wikipedia [FAL], from Wikimedia Commons

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About Doug Mataconis
Doug holds a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May, 2010 and also writes at Below The Beltway. Follow Doug on Twitter | Facebook

Comments

  1. michael reynolds says:

    The people want a lot of things. They want lots of government programs and low taxes. They want free health care. They want cheap gas and no pipelines or refineries. They want cookies that won’t make them fat.

    What politicians understand that the people don’t, is that if we are hit again the people will rise up as one and demand to know why they were not protected. So for a politician the safest answer is going to be, “We did all we could.”

    You want to see how well Americans handle this stuff? We’re on our 905th round of hearings on Benghazi – an insignificant event outside of the affected families. Americans have no capacity for assessing risk, let alone accepting risk. Set off a handful of car bombs in US cities and the people will be screaming for security measures that would embarrass the Stasi.

    One of the reasons I’ve generally supported the quite limited and mostly non-intrusive measures taken so far is that I have a healthy respect for the ability of Americans to panic like a herd of wildebeest smelling a lion when they’re scared. Witness Benghazi. Witness Ebola. Witness gun nuts carrying six shooters in family restaurants for fear of terrorists. Americans are huge pussies.

    The government is right. The people are full of baloney.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 34 Thumb down 7

  2. Mikey says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Set off a handful of car bombs in US cities and the people will be screaming for security measures that would embarrass the Stasi.

    Dunno…this seems like hyperbole. I mean, someone blew up the Atlanta Olympics in 1996 and all we did was blame the wrong guy and basically hound him into an early grave.

    Wait…I see your point. Never mind.

    Highly-rated. Helpful or Unhelpful: Thumb up 16 Thumb down 1

  3. C. Clavin says:

    Cheney is still running around pretending that the Bush Administration kept us safe for 8 years.
    Will the next administration that has a 9/11 happen on their watch be able to pull the same sleight of hand? Unlikely. Although given or Fourth Estate of Stenographers…who knows.
    In any case….I don’t want to see what the cowards in DC do to our civil liberties after the next serious terrorist attack.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 8 Thumb down 1

  4. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds:

    What politicians understand that the people don’t, is that if we are hit again the people will rise up as one and demand to know why they were not protected.

    It sounds logical but there’s no evidence for it. There was no uprising after September 11th, no inquisition, no one lost their job and no one paid a political price. American officials do not live in fear of how voters may react; in fact they show little indication they’re aware of us at all.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  5. Scott F. says:

    In reality, of course, the outcome of the 2016 election is likely to guarantee that the views of Americans who are concerned about civil liberties will largely be ignored.

    I don’t know where you get this, Doug. Did you look at the Gallup results? Yes, 65% of Americans say the government should take steps to prevent terrorism but not violate civil liberties. (It’s trending down by the way – thank you ISIS and the public figures that call their threat existential!) But, a majority also say that what the government is doing now isn’t violating their civil liberties. This opinion is in light of all that Snowden revealed.

    How does this translate into a public cry for the government to change it’s anti-terrorism approach?

    As Michael notes, current policy is relatively benign as a prophylactic against what the American sheeple will demand should another large scale attack occur. I’d prefer it wasn’t so – I’d like it if, as a people, our citizenry wasn’t so easily scared – but it is what it is.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 1

  6. Deserttrek says:

    @michael reynolds: exaggeration and hyperbole. I for one don’t need or want programs and pay for my healthcare so grow up. the nsa spying has and will do nothing to keep us safe. open borders, politically correct screenings, and a corrupt government at all levels is what will do us in. shutting down the nsa and other abuses will save money and no one will be worse off.

    don’t know who said you speak for the people but you don’t you have your big government opinion and that’s it.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 14

  7. J-Dub says:

    I for one don’t need or want programs and pay for my healthcare so grow up

    Or public education, apparently.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 14 Thumb down 0

  8. J-Dub says:

    As usual, follow the money. Where are politicians getting their contributions from? Civil libertarians or defense contractors? They aren’t going to bite the hand that feeds them.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 10 Thumb down 0

  9. michael reynolds says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Ben, the proof of American overreaction is Iraq, if nothing else. The American people backed that war, as they did the war in Afghanistan, and the drone war, and as they did heightened screening in airports and in NSA surveillance that they still support as @Scott points out above.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 4

  10. grumpy realist says:

    Um, Mr. Brain Surgeon Candidate seems to think it’s better to emulate the Soviets in our government.

    “Doctor in a Bonanza” is what I’m reminded of every time he opens his mouth.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  11. michael reynolds says:

    @grumpy realist:

    So the great Tea Party freedom candidate wants to emulate East Germany. Perfect. And the morons will lap it up.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 7 Thumb down 1

  12. dmichaelwells says:

    @michael reynolds: I usually agree with your comments, Michael but I can’t with this one. You seem to be saying that the current government surveillance is only useful as some prophylactic against wide-spread panic that would otherwise occur after the next terrorist attack. You characterize the surveillance as “quite limited and mostly non-intrusive measures taken so far” when neither you nor I have any basis to know this. Our intelligence agencies from the FBI (“cointelpro”), CIA (secret monitoring of US citizens and experiments with psycho active chemicals on unsuspecting victims) through the NSA vacuuming up all internet and telephone traffic demonstrate that those agencies violate any restrictions on their activities and the current Congress is institutionally incapable of guaranteeing that they won’t. In summary, there is no evidence that these surveillance techniques have stopped any terrorist activity, are routinely abused and yet you say that we should try to prevent people from getting hysterical when they can’t rationally assess risks (either the frequency of occurrence or the magnitude of harm) simply by having those surveillance activities in place. No thanks.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 1

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    Civil liberties? What civ….. Oh MY GOD ISIS IS STORMING OUR SHORES WITH EBOLA INFECTED CHILDREN!!!!!! HEEEEEEELPP!!!!! RUN AWAY RUN AWAY RUN AWAY…..

    @michael reynolds: is right. America is a nation of pussies. I am actually kinda proud of Texas for doing away with concealed carry. Now the pussy m***** f****** advertise themselves.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 5 Thumb down 2

  14. al-Ameda says:

    Among all Americans surveyed, 65 percent prioritized civil liberties over counterterrorism efforts, compared with 30 percent who said that the government should take all steps necessary to prevent acts of terror, even if that infringes on civil liberties.

    Even the most craven and out-to-lunch politicians care, it’s just they know damned well that if there is a major terrorist attack on American soil tomorrow, that same poll will skew 80%-20% in favor of surveillance over civil liberties.

    The public is a piece of work.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 1

  15. michael reynolds says:

    OT but there is some really cool stuff happening right now between Fox News and New Hampshire GOP. We got us a rumble.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  16. Matt says:

    @OzarkHillbilly: Where did you hear that Texas was getting rid of concealed carry? That’s silly.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  17. M. Bouffant says:

    @Matt: Technically, they aren’t getting rid of concealed carry; they’re legalizing open carry virtually everywhere.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  18. Ben Wolf says:

    @michael reynolds: All true, but that was after a year of an intensive propaganda campaign to create fear. The anthrax attacks in particular were used relentlessly by Bush cronies to convince people Saddam had WMD and the wholesale invention of an Iraqi- al Qaeda link all but guaranteed popular support. We tend to forget guys like Goebbels got their ideas on manipulatinf their peoples from the United States.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  19. stonetools says:

    First of all, I find it interesting that when polls show a majority of Americans agree with Doug’s positions,like here., he says that the people have spoken and urges politicians to get with the program; when the poll majorities disagree with Doug (eg. gun control) , this doesn’t mean much and the politicians should ignore these. Just thought I would note this :-).

    As others have noted, this depends on what your definition of civil liberties violation is. There are plenty of Americans who think that your civil liberties aren’t being violated till a SWAT team breaksinto your house. I’m betting a lot of the 65 per cent didn’t think civil liberties were violated evenn at the height of the NSA’s bulk warrantless surveillance in 2005. So I don’t think these polls mean what Doug thinks it means.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 3 Thumb down 0

  20. Tony W says:

    @M. Bouffant: I’m in favor of mandatory open carry – if you carry a big gun I want to know that you’re a gigantic wimp from a distance away so that I can go elsewhere.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

  21. Tyrell says:

    I expect to see more monitoring and control of the internet.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 0

  22. C. Clavin says:

    @Deserttrek:
    I’m betting you have mortgage deductions and employer provided healthcare…so you are in fact taking subsidies from the Government already.
    Apparently you never took advantage of public education, however.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 6 Thumb down 0

  23. Guarneri says:

    “The government is right. The people are full of baloney.”

    I missed the news where government policy makers and employees were all replaced by rational robots. Was it covered by Vox?

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 0 Thumb down 2

  24. Franklin says:

    @michael reynolds:

    Americans have no capacity for assessing risk, let alone accepting risk.

    A day late here, but I came to say this. I don’t necessarily agree with your conclusion, but the fault lies at the feet of bedwetting Americans.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  25. Most Americans believe their civil liberties are not trumped by security threats. It’s everyone ELSE’s civil liberties that are trumped by security threats.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 2 Thumb down 0

  26. michael reynolds says:

    @Ben Wolf:

    Yes, the government hyped the threat, but you can’t sell what folks aren’t ready to buy.

    Set off three suicide bombs in American malls and watch how many milliseconds it takes for retailers to set up metal detectors.

    If – a big if – current security measures are helpful in so complicating a terrorist plot as to keep us relatively safe I think it’s well worth the purely theoretical damage caused by things like NSA metadata collection.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 1

  27. Grewgills says:

    @michael reynolds:

    If – a big if – current security measures are helpful in so complicating a terrorist plot as to keep us relatively safe I think it’s well worth…

    As you concede that is a very big if and there has been exactly no evidence that it is so. That means that the damage done to any terrorist plot is purely theoretical. Why choose an expensive program that may harm civil liberties simply because it may theoretically make it a little bit harder to commit a terrorist act. Couple that with the program actively being used to go after drug offenders and it seems a clear net negative to me.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0