CNHI News Service

Opinion

December 27, 2012

COLUMN: Public tragedies also victimize civil liberties

Editor's Note: If you're not a weekly subscriber to Marta Mossburg's column, you can publish this one if you notify her at marta@martamossburg.com.

After the Newtown, Conn., massacre it seems crude to speak of rights and facts. With the unfulfilled lives of 20 children and six adults mercilessly gunned down foremost in our minds, it is more soothing to talk about safety and stopping the violence and letting those in authority do their jobs.

But this is when those who care about civil liberties have most to fear because those who would strip us of rights know it is easier to regulate and legislate after tragedies. Psychology tells us why: Humans crave coherence and neat solutions even when none are available.

Think of the U.S.A. Patriot Act, passed six weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. It gave the government broad new powers to surveil individuals and search their property – with no means to test whether the new regulations would thwart terrorists.

Or think of the Dodd-Frank Act, passed in 2010 in response to the financial crisis. Its regulations ensure bailouts for the biggest banks, which are larger now than they were before the Great Recession.

As President Obama’s former chief of staff Rahm Emanuel said, “You never want a serious crisis to go to waste.”

It is in that light that we should view Connecticut State Police spokesman Lt. J. Paul Vance’s comments about “misinformation.”

In a Dec. 16 news conference, Vance said anyone who posts misleading information on social media sites about the Newtown case would be “investigated, statewide and federally, and prosecution will take place when people perpetrating this information are identified.”

He added, “All information relative to this case is coming from these microphones.”

It’s horrible that anyone would consider posing as 20-year-old shooter Adam Lanza, try to disrupt the investigation of the murders or cause further heartbreak for the victims’ families.

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