Epstein Responds to Critiques of His Position on NSA Surveillance

Two Cheers for NSA Surveillance

Based on the response to member Monty Adams' post this morning, it is evident that the piece I coauthored with Roger Pilon of the Cato Institute has struck a raw chord with many readers on Ricochet, just as it does with most of the members of the Cato Institute. So here is a bit of background to indicate what I think about the situation:

First, there is no categorical libertarian opposition to government programs that are intended to deal with the threat of force against people (both citizens and others) and property within the United States. Indeed, the reason why libertarians are not anarchists is because they accept that this is a legitimate state function, for which taxes can be raised and government protections installed under even the narrowest definition of the police power.

Second, the difficulty in this area does not come so much with the punishment of past acts, but with the commission of future ones. There is some evidentiary uncertainty with the former and massive uncertainty with the latter. The question is how to design a system of remedies that minimizes the sum of two errors: abusive enforcement and lax enforcement. There is no ironclad rule that says how this can be done. But there is a clear sense that only some middle course will work. This is not a case like the minimum wage law, where there is, in my view, no justification for government interference with competitive markets.

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