…Christie jumped at the chance to speak on the tension between civil liberties and government surveillance. He apparently doesn’t see any tension.
Christie doesn’t like seeing the nature and extent of government surveillance being questioned or doubted. He doesn’t like “this strain of libertarianism that’s going through both parties right now.” In fact, it reflects “a very dangerous thought.” He said: “These esoteric, intellectual debates—I want them to come to New Jersey and sit across from the widows and the orphans and have that conversation.” Those who challenge surveillance programs may come to regret it: “The next attack that comes, that kills thousands of Americans as a result, people are going to be looking back on the people having this intellectual debate and wondering whether they put—” Here, according to Jonathan Martin’s report in the New York Times, Christie cut himself off.
…Stipulated: Christie was speaking off the cuff, not in a prepared address that had been thought through but in Q&A in front of a supportive audience. Politicians can get goosey in circumstances like that.
But Christie seized on the topic, as Martin noted, addressed it colorfully and bluntly, and knew what he thought. And in the days since he hasn’t walked it back.
So you have to take seriously what he said.
To call growing concerns about the size, depth, history, ways and operations of our now-huge national-security operation “esoteric” or merely abstract is, simply, absurd. Our federal government is involved in massive data collection that apparently includes a database of almost every phone call made in the U.S. The adequacy of oversight for this system is at best unclear. The courts involved are shadowed in secrecy and controversy. Is it really wrong or foolhardy or unacceptably thoughtful to wonder if the surveillance apparatus is excessive, or will be abused, or will erode, or perhaps in time end, any expectation of communications privacy held by honest citizens?
It is not. These are right and appropriate concerns, very American ones….
…People who work for the government, including inevitably those who work in national security, will not decide their powers are too broad. They can’t—they’re focused on a real foe, they have a mission and it tends to leave them in time thinking their powers aren’t broad enough. They will not declare they need more civilian control or oversight—those dizzy, self-serving politicians just gum up the works. They will not decide to limit their use of the capabilities at their fingertips, especially when the stakes seem so high.
It is up to the people in the country, to citizens, to control and limit government surveillance, to the extent they can and in accord with true national-security needs.