Roger Pilon, the libertarian Cato Institute’s vice president for legal affairs and director of its Center for Constitutional Studies, has angered many over the years in the intellectual world of free minds and free markets by endorsing the war on terror’s intelligence-gathering policies. He’s done it again by co-authoring an op-ed with Richard Epstein, an adjunct Cato scholar, defending the National Security Agency’s surveillance policy.
This is not a position that most libertarians hold, to put it mildly. Another Cato scholar, research fellow Julian Sanchez, has written an essay today specifically taking issue with their op-ed. Sanchez did it in part to refute any claim that Pilon and Epstein’s column represented the official Cato Institute stance, he says.
The Pilon and Epstein op-ed, which ran in the Chicago Tribune last week, argues:
Congress, through the Patriot Act, has set a delicate balance that enables the executive branch to carry out its basic duty to protect us from another 9/11 while respecting our privacy as much as possible. Obviously, reasonable people can have reasonable differences over how that balance is struck. But on this question, political deliberation has done its job, because everyone on both sides of the aisle is seeking the right constitutional balance.
The authors approvingly cite President Obama's claim that we cannot have 100 percent security and 100 percent privacy. “[T]he process involves some necessary loss of privacy. But it’s trivial,” they argue.
In a post on the Cato Institute’s official blog on Monday, Sanchez offers a point-by-point rebuttal arguing that the authors are mistaken about the particulars of the surveillance laws and the NSA’s policies.
While I hold much of Epstein’s and Pilon’s work in high regard, I believe both their research and their reasoning in this case to be faulty, and hope they will reconsider their position on this important issue. If they remain unpersuaded, then I at least hope that readers who look to Cato for guidance on these questions will recognize that theirs is not the position held by all — or, indeed, most — Cato scholars.