background image
21
Red Skies at Dawn
When four hijacked commercial airliners crashed in three different locations in
the Northeast United States, it ended the lives of 3,123 people, yet irrevocably
changed the lives of 260 million others. Within hours of the attacks, the discussion
concerning the long-term impact on free expression and personal privacy became
heated and intense.
In one of his many speeches in the wake of the attack, President Bush remarked
that "Freedom has been attacked, but freedom will be defended." Bush went on
to say that the terrorists "cannot touch the foundation of America" and "we go
forward to defend freedom."
24
However, in an ABC /Washington Post poll taken
the week of the attacks, 66% of those responding indicated that they would be
willing to compromise some of their liberties and freedoms in order to ensure
safety.
U.S. House Democratic Leader Richard Gephardt (D-MO) told the Washington
Post that the erosion of civil liberties was "inevitable." "We're in a new world,"
Gephardt said. "We have to rebalance freedom and security." Vermont's governor
(and future Democratic Presidential candidate) Howard Dean , said the crisis
would require "a reevaluation of the importance of some of our specific civil liber-
ties." Dean continued, "I think there are going to be debates about what can be
said where, what can be printed where, what kind of freedom of movement people
have and whether it's okay for a policeman to ask for your ID just because you're
walking down the street."
As noted by Robert O'Neil of the Thomas Jefferson Center for the Protection of
Free Expression, "In previous times of great national tension, government has felt
compelled to, and has seemed justified in, abridging certain basic liberties, sus-
pending habeas corpus during the Civil War, suppressing public dissent during
World War I, interning most persons of Japanese ancestry during World War II,
and suppressing protest during the Vietnam era."
25
Yet, despite profound embar-
rassment and regret after these previous actions, America seemed destined to
repeat these same mistakes after the September 11
th
attacks.
The U.S. Senate quickly authorized the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) to
tap electronic and Internet communications. They also granted local law enforce-
ment the ability to gather personal information (such as private financial and
education records) and further considered legislation to criminalize government