What was your reaction when you first learned about National Security Agency (NSA) warrant-less surveillance of Americans? Did you feel the program was justified in the name of national security? Or, were you outraged by the invasion of privacy and the trampling of individual freedom?
The tradeoff of freedom and security is a theme that has endured since the nation’s founding. And, it’s a tradeoff that can’t be resolved, only managed, with the pendulum swinging back and forth between security and freedom.
A good litmus test to gauge your feelings about these values is the way you responded to Edward Snowden’s release of a wide range of NSA secret documents as he fled around the world, finally landing in Russia. If you’re among those who view Snowden as a traitor, then you are likely to place national security over individual freedom. If you’re among those who see him as a hero, then the opposite is likely to be true. (The extreme length of the Wikipedia page about Snowden attests to the vigorous partisans on both sides—some jeering and some cheering.)
Back in the era of the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin had a firm opinion about the tradeoff: “Those who desire to give up freedom in order to gain security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.”
A few years after 9/11, almost half of Arab Americans (47 percent) and a majority of the general population (55 percent) in the Detroit region said they were willing to trade freedom for more security from terrorism. My team and I wrote about this in our book, Citizenship and Crisis: Arab Detroit After 9/11.
Nationwide, how do Americans feel about the tradeoff? This is one of the issues I explored in my national surveys, and the results reveal a clear division of opinion. Over a third (35%) of Americans say they are willing to give up any freedom the government asks them to give up in order to protect the country’s safety.
But just over half (51%) disagree. They aren’t willing to give up any freedom the government asks them to give up for the sake of more security. Only 14% are neutral on the issue.
Are you willing to trade freedom for security?
What is your reaction to the government’s once-secret surveillance program?
Do you consider Edward Snowden to be a traitor—or a patriot?
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