News from the Tennessee Valley Opinion


Big Brother is watching, and that's bad for nation

In a nation where enemies are just as likely to be inside the state as outside, civil liberties and defense sit at opposite ends of the teeter-totter. An increase in civil liberties means a decrease in defensive strength, and vice versa. President Bush's administration is determined to keep King Kong on the defense side of the teeter-totter, leaving civil liberties high and dry.

The Bush administration's use of wiretaps has received the most attention lately, but the erosion of civil liberties is not confined to such communications. Our government also is aggressive in its monitoring of the mail.

Just how aggressive is evidenced by a recent report. The only intended recipient of the suspect letter was an 81-year-old history professor retired from the University of Kansas. The sender was another retired history professor, from The Philippines.

The U.S. professor, Grant Goodman, received his friend's letter already opened and resealed with a strip of dark green tape bearing the words "by Border Protection" and carrying the official Homeland Security seal.

Homeland Security officials were unrepentant.

"All mail originating outside the United States Customs territory that is to be delivered inside the U.S. Customs territory is subject to Customs examination," says the Customs and Border Protection division of Homeland Security's Web site. That includes personal correspondence. " 'All mail' means all mail," said John Mohan, a Customs spokesman.

It may be that some societies want protection from harm at any cost. As memorialized in the Bill of Rights, however, Americans prefer balance. We want our government to provide protection, but not while running roughshod over the individual rights we deem precious.

George Orwell's novel, "1984," begins with the narrator seeing a sign. The words on the sign: "BIG BROTHER IS WATCHING YOU." Those words seem eerily prescient as we deal with a government that reads our mail, taps our telephone, examines our e-mail and photographs us at traffic lights.

By and large, Americans understand that freedom comes with a price tag. That price tag has no dollar amount inscribed; rather, it identifies the risk posed by those within our borders who want to do us harm. Teeter-totters don't work when King Kong is on one end. Our elected officials must strive for balance.

We can forgive officials who fail to protect our lives. We cannot forgive officials who fail to protect our freedom.

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