Bruce Schneier has a great essay on what changes the US should make to scale back the police powers granted by the PATRIOT Act. Let me say upfront, that I agree with him 100%, unfortunately, the argument isn’t very compelling.
There are those that think anyone that doesn’t advocate doing whatever it takes to stop terrorism are complicit in the attacks of 9/11 and will be responsible for any future attacks that happen on American soil. Theoretical fears of a “police state” simply aren’t going to sway them.
The fact of the matter is that most Americans are result oriented type of political being, they want an end to terrorism, they want better schools for their kids, they want less crime. The means that are used to achieve those ends are pretty much irrelevant to how those ends are achieved.
For those of us that are driven by a strong philosophical commitment to rights for everyone the means are very important, putting a criminal into jail by forcing him to incriminate himself is unconscionable, to those that just want safer streets, they can look the other way as long as the criminal isn’t themselves or someone close to them.
In order to sway the vast majority of Americans that we are on the right side we need to show them the consequences of their lax behavior. We need to convince them that increased police surveillance is unlikely to lead to actionable information. We need to show them that the FBI knowing that you went to Vegas with your mistress isn’t going to hurt you today, but could come back to haunt you in the future when they need something for you.
In short, we need to do a better job of framing the debate in terms that matter to people rather than framing it as the right thing to do.