Noted libertarian law professor Richard Epstein crafts a set of distinctions on what is permissible when it comes to questions surveillance brought about by the Boston Marathon bombing. In doing so he criticizes a recent proposal by State Senator Robert Hedlund related to the use of drones. According to Epstein such moves toward increased searches are not unreasonable.
The Tsarnaev brothers’ attack at the Boston Marathon has brought forth an insistent public call for an increase in surveillance to detect suspicious activities before it is too late. To be sure, there are always technical difficulties in using surveillance devices. But any objection on that ground should be treated solely as means-ends questions, which can in large measure be answered by improved software in such key areas as facial recognition detection. The moral, social, and constitutional objections are sadly misplaced.
Yet, post bombing, intense political opposition has arisen in Massachusetts over the wider use of drones and other surveillance devices at next year’s Boston Marahton. Republican Sen. Robert Hedlund of the Massachusetts Legislature has sponsored restrictive legislation on drones with two key provisions. First, the legislation would prohibit the generalized use of drones in Boston, without the explicit prior approval of local governments, including the Boston City Council. Second, the legislation would “prohibit data collection about lawful peaceful activity,” which in turn would be backed up by public disclosure of drone use.
Hedland’s stated rationale runs as follows:
It’s not surprising that you have law enforcement agencies rushing out to use [the Boston bombing and subsequent manhunt] as pretext to secure additional powers but I think we have to maintain perspective and realize that civil liberties and the protections we’re granted under the Constitution and our rights to privacy, to a degree, are nonnegotiable. . .
You don’t want to let a couple of young punks beat us and allow our civil liberties to be completely eroded. I don’t fall into the trap that, because of the hysteria, we need to kiss our civil liberties away.
Hedlund is dead wrong here-and this is from a writer whose entire career has been devoted to imposing workable and principled limitations on government power.
Read the whole article from the Hoover Institution here.