Recently Time magazine featured an article linking National Security and freedom. Their key emphasis was whether or not Americans are willing to sacrifice their freedoms for greater National Security. This made me ponder the current scandal plaguing the DOJ and their potential constitutional infringing probe of the Associated Press.
The DOJ is attempting to find the source of a leak from the government when over a year ago the AP reported on a thwarted terror plot against an American aircraft in Yemen. The AP, and journalists alike, are concerned that the Justice Department broke their own rules and regulations in conducting this investigation by collecting two months worth of wire taps and information without giving the AP a chance to appeal before a judge. The AP claims their 1st Amendment rights are being violated by this "unconstitutional" investigation.
These are a few of the questions I have been pondering since the story broke: Were their 1st Amendment rights fully violated or is this a true matter of National Security? Are we obligated to surrender some of our most fundamental rights as Americans in order for our government to keep us safe? Is our government trying to mislead us by hiding behind National Security to suppress the media? The article Time featured was primarily focused on Tamerlan Tsarnaev and the attacks in Boston over a month ago and how they may have been prevented.
This notion of the government using National Security to infringe on our rights and even spy on Americans is not a new concept. The Nixon Administration took extreme precautions in the name of National Security even ordering the CIA to spy on Americans. The Bush Administration ordered unwarranted wire taps on Americans through the passage of the Patriot Act. Anyone they suspected to be a terrorist could be unknowingly and unwillingly wiretapped by the federal government. This is reminiscent of the early days of the FBI and director J. Edgar Hoover's obsession of pursuing communists in the United States.
The next logical assertion or inquiry is, is this legal? After all, our government is supposed to protect us and act in our best interest. However, does this mean that we must surrender our rights? In regards to the AP, many believe leaks of this magnitude can adversely affect the way our government operates in protecting us from terror. If these stories break, do they provide our enemies with extra knowledge of which they were not aware that may have allowed them to change their plots? On the other hand, as American citizens, do we have a right to know what is going on behind closed doors with our government? Isn't this what the press and investigative journalism is all about? The Supreme Court has made several rulings on what the American people have a right to know as tax payers and in the interest of National Security, notably the "black budget." They ruled that if the "black budget" was disclosed, it could compromise our efforts to fight our enemies and affect National Security.
All the "what if's" aside, the major issue with the AP scandal is the DOJ's failure to announce the investigation until they gathered two months worth of evidence without anyone knowing. The AP did not even get a chance to defend themselves in front a judge to protect their constitutional rights. According to the DOJ, they are conducting a criminal investigation and must take the necessary steps to make sure they do not compromise their investigation (such as staffers shredding documents or tipping off confidential sources).
Getting back to the fundamental question: Would Americans sacrifice their freedoms in the name of National Security? I believe this question is still a toss up. This scandal can be looked at as a loophole for the government to confine the press. What is more important in our democracy, freedom or safety?