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Brilliant Republican Speaks; William Safire

Thu Mar 11, 2004 1:05 pm

March 10, 2004

Privacy in Retreat


WASHINGTON ・"I believe privacy is a fundamental right," said the candidate George W. Bush one month before his election, "and that every American should have absolute control over his or her personal information."

Those of us agitating against snoopery ・facilitated by databanks and newly invasive surveillance ・were further assured when we elicited Bush's on-the-record promise to "guarantee the privacy of medical and sensitive financial records."

But after 9/11, the passion went out of advocacy of privacy. The right to be let alone had to be balanced against the right to stay alive.

Accordingly, we readily submit to preboarding searches, right down to our shoes. We tolerate foreigner-fingerprinting at our borders. We live with hidden security cameras near national monuments or bridges.

Benumbed by the fear of appearing insufficiently vigilant, we accept "cookies" on our computers that track our habits and electronic location devices in our cars that guide our way but never let us wander about unobserved. We don't know whether our nosy neighbor is taking his cellphone call or taking our picture. We let our most confidential e-mail be shared among our spies, our cops and our military. To keep our national defense up, we have let our personal defenses down.

Terror's threat is real. But as we grudgingly grant government more leeway to guard our lives, we must demand that our protectors be especially careful to safeguard our rights. Officials all too often fail to see both sides of their jobs.

As reported last week by Robert Pear and Eric Lichtblau in The Times, the Justice Department said that medical patients "no longer possess a reasonable expectation that their histories will remain completely confidential."

This abhorrent philosophy underlies a counterattack launched by Justice at doctors who went to court to challenge the federal Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act. Most Americans, including many who are pro-choice, favor that legislation. I think the doctors are mistaken in their constitutional objection. But in defending the law, Attorney General John Ashcroft went overboard.

Justice issued subpoenas to hospitals in several cities across the nation for the medical records of hundreds of women who had undergone abortions. After hospitals protested that the order flew in the face of federal and state privacy laws, Justice offered to allow the individual names to be blotted out. In Chicago, Northwestern Memorial argued in court that patients would not trust such redaction of their records ・copies of which would pass through hundreds of hands ・to keep private such an intimate procedure.

The judge quashed the subpoena, but Justice is appealing. "Congress created a zone of privacy relating to medical information," says Chicago Congressman Rahm Emanuel. "Who would have thought the first one to violate it would be the federal government?" Medical records contain dates of treatment, doctors' names, prescriptions ・all clues to identity. Who would not be deterred from going to a hospital that meekly passed along those records?

This intrusion cannot be justified by a claim to protect the nation from a terror attack. In Pittsburgh, however, the F.B.I. has set up a pilot Strategic Medical Intelligence unit under that very rubric. Doctors in Pennsylvania and West Virginia are expected to notify S.M.I. bioterror experts of any "suspicious event," from an unusual rash to a finger lost in an explosion, identifying but not informing the patient.

It's proper for a doctor to report a case of spousal or child abuse to the police, or to query the Centers for Disease Control about a mysterious infection. But how do patients feel about their doctors first secretly calling the F.B.I.? Where is the oversight to protect the innocent injured or ill? Where is the patient's informed consent?

A balance must be struck between protecting all of us and protecting each one of us. I don't trust Justice or the C.I.A. to strike that balance. I have more faith in the courts and Congress, and ・if he would remember his stand on personal freedom ・in George W. Bush.


It's because of these fundamentals that William Safire speaks of is why I am a republican yet I will not vote for George W Bush again this November.
His administration has stepped out of line and has ignored these principals.
I support the women’s movement up and down!
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RE: Brilliant Republican Speaks; William Safire

Thu Mar 11, 2004 2:25 pm

Great article. I am glad you post this. It's funny how the Bush lovers can't say a thing about this. They can only respond to criticism from the left but not the right. The average Bush lover isn't concerned about loss of freedoms, they instead wrap themselves up in useless things like the Martha Stuart trial, Paris Hilton, Janet's boobs and acts as if the execution of the D.C. sniper is the greatest thing since slice bread.

I still think William Safire is a d!*k.
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RE: Brilliant Republican Speaks; William Safire

Fri Mar 12, 2004 9:47 am

One reply?
Just one reply?

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RE: Brilliant Republican Speaks; William Safire

Fri Mar 12, 2004 3:29 pm

Since I'm Canadian, I'll just say one thing. I'm glad I don't live in the US right now, not because I hate the country, but because of this kind of political crap. Since Bush came into "power", America has been the most hated country in the world, that is a fact. I liked America before he came into office, but now things have changed, although I wish they would not.

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RE: Brilliant Republican Speaks; William Safire

Sat Mar 13, 2004 9:21 am


Well you shouldn't hate us as a whole but I can certainly understand hating Bush. If we had elected a conservative with ideals like Safire or John McCain, we would be respected around the world and still be able to protect ourselves and allies from terrorist and protect our interest worldwide.
I support the women’s movement up and down!
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RE: Brilliant Republican Speaks; William Safire

Sat Mar 13, 2004 11:03 am

For what it's worth, I'm a staunch Republican...and I do disagree with George W. Bush on many issues. Among them, how far the Patriot Act goes, "Guest Worker" status for illegals, expanding Medicare entitlements, etc.

But even though I don't agree with quite a bit of what President Bush has done or proposed, I cannot argue with the fact that this country will be in far better condition with him in the White House than with John "He's Everywhere You Want To Be" Kerry and Ralph "I'm Still Relevant - Really!" Nader.

It's a shame when an election becomes a battle between who's the lesser of two evils, but that's precisely what we're faced with - and as such my vote will go to George W. Bush.
"In this present crisis, government is not the solution to our problem - government IS the problem." - Ronald Reagan

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