Editorial: Leaders shouldn’t use terrorism war to abuse power


    As Americans, we’re now getting used to Life After The Attacks.

    We’re unflinchingly patriotic. We approach the mailbox a little more warily. And we shrug when national and local government officials talk of closing doors on previously public meetings — in the name of “national security.”

    But should we?

    There’s nothing un-American about questioning public — we repeat: public — officials when they begin using security to cloak government work in secrecy.

    In Florida, the state legislature is tinkering with open meetings and open records laws. Legislators are considering restrictions that would, in some cases, even make votes classified information. Again, in the name of national security.

    The Utah Legislature hasn’t gone that far — yet. But it’s reportedly considering “energy information” amendments to open meetings laws, restrictions that would result in closed-door negotiations over public utility contracts. That may sound harmless, but such legislation could keep the public clueless about billion-dollar deals involving taxpayer funds.

    Energy contracts?

    Does that sound like national security?

    Government officials pushing such plans are probably well intentioned. They must believe that sealing off public meetings and classifying documents is for the good of the country, essential in this war on terrorism.

    And they would be right — to a point.

    We understand the need for expanded wiretapping or an extra background check. In a high-tech world, the government needs more flexibility to keep up with transient terrorists. That’s why President Bush signed an anti-terrorism law last week that beefs up law enforcement with broader powers to detain and deport suspects, tap into Internet communications and obtain records and search warrants.

    But lawmakers can overreact, swinging the pendulum of personal liberties so far that America stifles the very freedom it’s fighting so desperately to preserve.

    This might be a new war, a new era that requires new thinking. But that hardly justifies junking the constitutionally protected freedoms and their 200-plus years of wisdom.

    Not even in the name of national security.

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