The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties

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9781455889723: The Rights of the People: How Our Search for Safety Invades Our Liberties
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How have our rights to privacy and justice been undermined? What exactly have we lost? Pulitzer Prize–winner David K. Shipler searches for the answers to these questions by examining the historical expansion and contraction of our fundamental rights and, most pointedly, the real-life stories of individual men and women who have suffered. This is the account of what has been taken—and of how much we stand to regain by protesting the departures from the Bill of Rights.

With keen insight and telling detail, Shipler describes how the Supreme Court’s constitutional rulings play out on the streets as Washington, D.C., police officers search for guns in poor African American neighborhoods, how a fruitless search warrant turns the house of a Homeland Security employee upside down, and how the secret surveillance and jailing of an innocent lawyer result from an FBI lab mistake. Each instance—often as shocking as it is compelling—is a clear illustration of the risks posed to individual liberties in our modern society. And, in Shipler’s hands, each serves as a powerful incitement for a retrieval of these precious rights.

A brilliant, immeasurably important audiobook for our time.

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From the Author:

A Letter from Author David K. Shipler

During research for The Rights of the People, I asked a communications class at Stetson University to write their answers to a few questions, including whether “you expect that your e-mails, phone calls, letters, checking accounts, conversations in your rooms, credit card use, computer hard drive, personal items in your home, etc. will be, or should be, beyond the reach of government investigators without judicial authorization.”

Most of the students were adamant about their privacy, others were reluctantly resigned to losing it, and a few endorsed the surveillance for the sake of security. But one response jumped out at me, from a young woman who wrote:

“Do I want the government breaking down my doors to interrogate me? Of course not. Something in the middle, however, is not outrageous for our protection. I wouldn’t mind if they peeked into my life as long as I don’t notice them there.”

She captured perfectly the warring attitudes that coexist in the country at large. Violations of the Bill of Rights are considered outrageous when they are obvious and physical, but when they are out of sight, they are out of mind. That leaves government with latitude to do invisible electronic searches without generating much public opposition.

I came to understand the issue as a problem of perception, illustrated neatly by Publishers Weekly, which called electronic surveillance “less intrusive” than pedestrian frisks by policemen looking for guns. Those visible violations were “shocking.” Yes, but if investigators without showing probable cause can wire your bedroom for sound, copy your daughter’s hard drive, tape your phone conversations, read your e-mail, monitor your Web browsing, collect a decade of your travel and medical and financial records, and follow your location through your cell phone or a GPS device planted secretly on your car, how is that “less intrusive?”

Most of those steps were taken against the innocent lawyer Brandon Mayfield, whom I profiled in the book. I’ll bet, if offered a choice between those and a one-time frisk, Mayfield would have picked the pat-down.

I ended this project worrying about complacency. If we cannot mobilize sufficient concern about what we cannot see, then the invisible surveillance will continue undermining the Fourth Amendment without the resistance required to preserve our rights.

About the Author:

DAVID K. SHIPLER reported for The New York Times from 1966 to 1988 and is the author of four other books. Shipler, who has been a guest scholar at the Brookings Institution and a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, has taught at Princeton University; at American University in Washington, D.C.; and at Dartmouth College. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland.

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