NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Sacrifice Liberty for Security? Sure

March 17, 2004

Complaining about the "unjust" detention of 1,200 foreigners on security grounds -- and the imprisonment of enemy combatants at Guantanamo -- New York Times opinion columnist Nicholas Kristof favors violating the constitutionally guaranteed freedom of the press and the privacy of individuals.

In addition, Kristof proposes adoption of a national identification card and the banning of certain books.

Regarding a national ID, he argues:

  • More than 100 nations have some kind of national ID card, and "we're already moving toward a government ID system -- using driver's licenses and Social Security numbers to prove who we are -- but they neither protect our privacy nor stop terrorists. Instead, they simply promote identity theft."
  • Furthermore, "At least seven of the Sept. 11 hijackers, some living in Maryland hotels, managed to get Virginia ID cards or driver's licenses, which can be used as identification when boarding planes."
  • One undercover federal study last year successfully "used off-the-shelf materials to forge documents that were then used to get driver's licenses in seven states and the District of Columbia."

On the First Amendment, Kristof is horrified at "booklets, typically sold at gun shows or on the Internet, detailing how to make mustard gas, VX, anthrax or 'home-brew nerve gas.'" He assumes that such publications are new and that chemical knowledge isn't widespread:

  • "Now in these cookbooks we're seeing 'information proliferation' that empowers terrorists."
  • "....a cult or terrorist group....could make sarin (nerve gas), just as the Aum Shinrikyo cult in Japan did before releasing it in the Tokyo subways in 1995."
  • After all, says Kristof, Alexander Bickel arguing before the Supreme Court in the N.Y. Times "Pentagon Papers" case, agreed that he'd block a publication if 100 Americans would "certainly die as a result."

Reluctantly, he says, we are "better off banning books."

Source: Nicholas D. Kristof, "May I See Your ID?" New York Times, March 17, 2004.


Browse more articles on Government Issues