damnum absque injuria

August 10, 2006

Larry Walters: Somebody Famous Said Something About Liberty and Security, Um, I Think

Filed under:   by Xrlq @ 11:07 pm

Attorney Larry Walters was a guest on Bill O’Reilly’s show today to discuss the differing evidentiary standards in Britain and America for investigating terrorists. O’Reilly appeared to endorse the British rule, which allows cops to obtain warrants based on reasonable suspicion rather than probable cause. Walters, a self-described civil libertarian, disagreed:

O’REILLY: OK, in Britain it is, um, “reasonable suspicion,” and here it is “probable cause.” A huge gap, huge gap between them. Reasonable suspicion is basically, uh, Scotland Yard going to a judge and saying “Look, Abdul’s hanging around Mohammed. We know Mohammed’s bad. Therefore, we we want to go into Abdul’s house and see what we can see.” The judge says “Fine.” Here you do that, the judge laughs, you’re never going to get the warrant to go into Abdul’s house. It doesn’t seem to me, and I’ve lived there, that Britain is a fascist society, that the people there are oppressed in any way, shape or form, by their government. Why shouldn’t we have reasonable suspicion, rather than probable cause, in terror investigations, sir?

WALTERS: Britain is a different society, and we have a Bill of Rights, something that we fought the American Revolution against the UK to be able to obtain, and we’re the leaders in the world in terms of civil liberties. And when you’re talking about giving up basic constitutional rights to get a little bit of security. I wouldn’t be in favor of that. You know, it always reminds me of Thomas Jefferson’s quote, uh, “he who is willing to give up a little bit of freedom for a little bit of security is, uh, soon gonna have little of either.” And that’s true in this case.

The real quote, of course, was not about trading a little freedom for a little security, which sounds more like an even trade. Rather, it was about trading an essential liberty for a little temporary safety, not about trading a little of one for a little of another. Also, the real quote was not a prediction that those who trade any amount of liberty for any amount of safety will not have either; it was a moral pronouncement that they deserve neither. And the quote was attributed to Benjamin Franklin, not to Thomas Jefferson. And even Franklin probably never said it, either, having claimed merely to have published, not authored, the book in which it appeared, An Historical Review of the Constitution and Government of Pennsylvania. Other than that, Mr. Walters’s analysis was spot on.


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