Tuesday, September 25, 2001
Don’t Sacrifice Liberty for Security, Chemerinsky Says
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The events of Sept. 11 may require some restrictions on individual liberty, but not should not be allowed to justify a massive scaling back of constitutional rights, a law professor told a crowd of USC students yesterday afternoon.
“We shouldn’t give away the Fourth Amendment in the name of security,” Erwin Chemerinsky said at a late afternoon outdoor campus “teach-in” organized by a university history professor.
Chemerinsky specifically criticized Attorney General John Ashcroft’s proposal for “roving” wiretap orders, which would allow law enforcement to intercept communications from any telephone used by a named suspect.
Since the only way to know whether a particular telephone is being used by a person subject to a roving wiretap is to eavesdrop, any number of conversations being conducted by innocent citizens are likely to be overheard, he said.
Americans already understand and are willing to accept some limits to individual freedom, such as broad searches of luggage when attempting to board airplanes. But passengers shouldn’t have to consider the prospect of intrusions that are presently associated only with criminals, such as strip searches or body cavity searches, he said.
Liberty is too easily lost, even in America, Chemerinsky said. He cited the Alien and Sedition acts of 1796, laws criminalizing criticism of government policy in World War I, and the internment of persons of Japanese ancestry, including U.S. citizens, during World War II.
America needs to accept the principle that “dissent is never disloyal,” that criticism of a particular policy shouldn’t be viewed as an attack on the country, he said.
Chemerinsky also decried the reported use of racial profiling in investigations of possible connections between persons in the United States and terrorism. “We shouldn’t allow suspicion based on race alone,” he said.
One student attending the event—a Caucasian—asked the professor to comment on reports that campus police officers were detaining students of Middle East origin and confiscating their university identification cards. Chemerinsky said he had not heard the reports and hoped they weren’t true.
He also praised university President Steve Sample, who earlier expressed support for students fearful of harassment based on ethnicity.
One speaker who said he was ready to accept greater restrictions on his liberty was law professor Edwin Smith, a former U.S. Senate aide and author of a recent book on the future role of the United Nations.
“Because I’ve been involved with computers for a very long time, I’ve always assumed that anything I put on a computer was capable of being read by somebody” in the government, he said. “I now think that it should be.”
Copyright 2001, Metropolitan News Company