Safety at a price: Lafayette alumnus delivers talk on civil liberties versus publicw security

Robert Hyman ‘62 spoke Monday on the relationship between public safety and personal freedom.

Photo by Austin Drucker ‘17

Laws regarding personal freedoms and public security must be balanced so that one does not infringe on the successes of the other, according to a New York City lawyer and Lafayette alumnus who came to speak at the college Monday.

Steven Hyman ‘62 came to Lafayette on Monday to deliver a talk on the relationship between civil liberties and public safety. Hyman began his talk by establishing a contrast between Lafayette during his undergraduate years and the college today. Hyman explained that while he was at Lafayette, all students and the vast majority of the faculty were male. Moreover, almost all of the community was white and almost every student was a member of a fraternity.

Hyman used this depiction of Lafayette as a parallel to the subject of his talk. Just as his college experience was different form the college experience of current students, the issue of liberty versus security has likewise changed between the 1960s and the first decade of the twenty-first century, he said.

Hyman was a lawyer in the civil liberties case, NY v. Quarles (1983), which eventually reached the Supreme Court. This case centered on a man named Quarles, who was apprehended by police in a supermarket after being tipped off that he was carrying a firearm. The police handcuffed him and asked him where his weapon was without first formally arresting him and reading him his Miranda warning. The question decided by the Court was whether Quarles confession of a firearm should be admissible in court given the fact he was not first given his Miranda rights.

The Court ruled that there is a public safety exception to Miranda. In other words, because there was an immediate and identifiable threat, it was acceptable for the police to gather evidence from Quarles without first warning him of “the right to remain silent.”

This decision gave precedence to security over individual liberty, a trend that, according to Hyman, is reappearing in the 21st century. Ever since 9/11, security, to a certain extent, has been given greater priority over personal liberty, he argued. Some examples of this trend provided by Hyman include the maintenance of Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp and the data collection by the National Security Agency.

Hyman, a self-described civil libertarian, provided a general outline for how to address such issues. Hyman argued that balance is the key to managing the apparent conflict between security and individual rights. An approach that defends individual rights at the expense of security is not effective. Likewise, an approach that maintains security but sacrifices personal liberties is equally ineffective.

Hyman concluded by reaffirming the contrast between the world of his generation and the world of the modern generation. Just as his Lafayette experience was different from the experience of current students, the debate of security vs. individual rights has transformed since the time he was in college.

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