By JENNIFER MANDELBLATT
Over the course of history, fear has forced nation to turn on nation, neighbor to turn on neighbor and countries to circumvent their people’s rights. Now, in this age of heightened uncertainty, the N.S.A. has justified domestic intelligence surveillance in the name of national security. This past Monday, the Supreme Court declined to hear a challenge to the N.S.A.’s practices, thus propelling members of Congress, from both parties, into action. To aid this rare demonstration of bipartisanship, we must speak up and join these elected representatives: not as Democrats or Republicans, but as Americans who understand that we are not to be a nation driven by fear. We can neither be a government afraid of our people nor a people afraid of our government, for if we succumb to being such a nation, we will inevitably forfeit the liberty for which we stand.
According to The New York Times, “The Electronic Privacy Information Center filed the challenge directly with the Supreme Court, arguing that the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court had ‘exceeded its statutory jurisdiction when it ordered production of millions of domestic telephone records that cannot plausibly be relevant to an authorized investigation.’”
The use of such records underscores the N.S.A.’s infringement of our right to due process of law and sets an incredibly dangerous precedent for our justice system. As Americans, we are safe and we are free because our law requires search warrants, protects from self-incrimination and promises fair trials. And though this system demands due process of law for a known criminal, it is also this system that helps prevent an innocent person from being bound behind bars. We must therefore protect it, because if we cloud the line of justice now, there is no telling how far it will be pushed.
Though many will argue that the infringement of rights would never go so far, there was a time when the barriers of justice were pushed beyond any scope of imagination. There was no due process of law or “innocent until proven guilty” when well over 100,000 Japanese Americans were forced to board trains to internment camps to preserve national security.
This year, the New Student Reading Project book was Julie Otsuka’s When the Emperor was Divine, which chronicles a family’s experience both in the Japanese internment camps and after as they tried to piece their life back together. In the book, the daughter recalls that after release, the father “wore the same loose baggy trousers every day and he was convinced that someone was watching the house. He did not like to use the telephone-You never know who might be listening.”
Though this is a fictional story, it represents a period in American history when the fear of government and the presence of a “big brother-esque” state was all too real. And although internment camps will reside solely in America’s past, we must remember it as a lesson for now and for our future. We can never forget, as we promised we wouldn’t, what can happen to a country and its people when fear is the driving rationale.
We are living in an age of uncertainty, and so precautions must be taken. However, such precautions cannot be limitless and cannot negate the great justice on which our legal system and country were founded. Because what will we have left when we unconditionally surrender our rights to satisfy our fear?