The U.S. government must walk a complex and dangerous path to balance privacy with protection in a new era of technology, Former FBI Director Louis J. Freeh said during a speech Thursday at the Elliott School.
Freeh, who led the country’s largest law enforcement organization from 1993 to 2001, gave an address titled “Policing in the Cyberage, Balancing Liberty and Security.” Delta Phi Epsilon, GW’s professional Foreign Service fraternity, sponsored the event.
In his speech, Freeh said the question of balancing security and liberty dates back to when the framers wrote the Constitution.
“There were two different strains sitting in that hot Philadelphia hall that summer: One group was writing the Constitution and one was writing the exceptions to it,” he said.
During these debates, George Washington warned the other framers that an army could be the most dangerous threat to the republic because it would restrict its liberty, while Thomas Jefferson argued that a banking system is the biggest threat, Freeh said.
“Recently we would say Jefferson was probably, or exactly, correct,” Freeh added.
But while the military has grown to keep pace with the changing world, Freeh said police forces still operate under an 18th-century mindset.
“Unlike military power, the police power has not grown very much from what the framers of the Constitution intended it to be,” he said.
He questioned the lack of a national police force in the United States, something that sets it apart from most other industrialized countries.
“Why is it that our military evolved, our banking system evolved, obviously to be consistent with the development of the country and the complexity of government, but a police force is still a local power?” he asked.
For a national police force to succeed, it would have to keep things secret from the public, he added.
“Americans don’t want and have never wanted and traditionally will never want a national police force,” he said.
Freeh said that the struggle to balance liberty and security is still an issue today, especially with regard to the topic of executive power during times of crisis.
“In matters of foreign relations, the president has enormous and almost unrestricted amounts of power,” he explained.
This large amount of power, which some critics have called improper, was evident in the way former President George W. Bush dealt with other nations, Freeh said.
Freeh added that as long as our government tries to maintain a balance between freedom and safety, the country will be successful.
“We must preserve the same liberty dynamics and principles that the framers struggled with in 1791,” he said.