Editorial: It was bound to happen

Jun. 06, 2013 @ 05:59 PM

News that the government has been secretly collecting the telephone records of millions of U.S. customers of Verizon under a top-secret court order must have come as a letdown for members of the Washington press corps. They thought the government was waging a quiet war on a free press when it took the phone records of a Fox News reporter. Now it turns out the government is doing it to everyone.

That this is an outrageous intrusion on civil liberties ought to go without saying.

That it would happen eventually, however, was completely predictable. Once the Patriot Act became law in the climate of fear that followed the 2001 terrorist attacks, the stage was set. If you can justify previously unthinkable intrusions on any person or group’s freedoms under a set of extreme circumstances, it becomes incrementally easier to justify it for a growing number of people. Every time the law is renewed and expanded, more loss of personal liberty and privacy becomes inevitable.

“They who can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety, deserve neither liberty nor safety,” Benjamin Franklin wrote at a time when both liberty and safety were simpler, but the words are just as true now.