Schneier Misquote

There’s a quote attributed to me here:

Well-known author and expert on security, Bruce Schneier, born in 1963, maintains “Terrorists can only take my life. Only my government can take my freedom.”

I don’t think I’ve ever said that. It certainly doesn’t sound like something I would say. It’s not in any of my books. It’s not in any of the essays I’ve written.

So I Googled the quote. Here it is being used as a sig in December 2001, without attribution. The real source must be at least as old as that. The immediate source might be this blog. Possibly, it might come from this comment to my blog, reworded and attributed to me:

Surely the man who trades freedom for security theatre deserves both freedom and security less than the first man!

I like that quote, “we must remember that we have more power than our enemies to worsen our fate”. Terrorists can, at most, take away my life. They can never take away my freedom. Only my government has the power to do that.

Anyone have any better theories?

Posted on August 2, 2008 at 10:44 AM45 Comments


Anonymous August 2, 2008 12:13 PM

“In the age of the internet attaching a famous name to your personal opinion to give more weight to it is a very valid strategy.” – Benjamin Franklin

John Lackland August 2, 2008 12:36 PM

I believe Ingrid Betancourt, among others, would strongly disagree with that quote.

Of course they would disagree, therefore it’s the community who decides. Otherwise we would certainly see such ‘nice things’ like witch trials again. We need people who are able to reason, we don’t need a hoi polloi filled up with rage.

mare tranquillitatis August 2, 2008 12:47 PM

I would say your problem now is making time run backwards. When you get quoted on things you haven’t said yet, you are risking the integrity of the time space continuum.

Like that time you will say “No one makes pickles like a man with a compromised identity”. In about two days, is my yromem serves.

Petréa Mitchell August 2, 2008 1:11 PM

I should put in a plug for my favorite search engine, Clusty, which returns the Slashdot link as result #2 when searching on the quote.

Joe Patterson August 2, 2008 1:19 PM

I know there’s a very similar Jon Stewart quote:

“If the evens of September 11, 2001, have proven anything, it’s that the terrorists can attack us, but they can’t take away what makes us American – our freedom, our liberty, our civil rights. No, only Attorney General John Ashcroft can do that.”

Anonymous August 2, 2008 3:00 PM

“[Terrorists] can never take away my freedom.”

That’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever seen. Why can’t a terrorist take away your freedom? What if they kidnap you? What if they have a nuke or some biological weapon and threaten to use it unless you live a certain way? I’d say that would take away your freedom.

Justin Alcorn August 2, 2008 3:39 PM

“That’s the most stupid thing I’ve ever seen.” – Anonymous

And thus, the terrorists win. A terrorist can take away your liberty and freedom, small ‘l’ and small ‘f’. But your Liberty and Freedom (BIG L, BIG F) are provided by our constitution. Terrorists win by causing us to react to the small chance of harm to a small number of people by allowing people in power to take away essential Liberties from 100% of us.

The original quote is well put. but I still like Ben Franklin’s: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

theprez98 August 2, 2008 4:57 PM

“But your Liberty and Freedom (BIG L, BIG F) are provided by our constitution.”

No, the Constitution doesn’t provide us with any of our freedoms. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights simply secure freedoms that we already have. A quick reading of the Declaration of Independence will clear this up.

MGP August 2, 2008 5:31 PM

Actually, I prefer Oscar Wilde for borrowing quotes. For example:

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.
Oscar Wilde

This one seems to have a ring of truth to it:

America is the only country that went from barbarism to decadence without civilization in between.
Oscar Wilde

Then, probably one of my absolute favorites:

Bigamy is having one wife too many. Monogamy is the same.
Oscar Wilde

Jared Lessl August 2, 2008 5:43 PM

Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.

Rule of Acquisition 76: Every once in a while, declare peace. It confuses the hell out of your enemies.

MGP August 2, 2008 6:57 PM

I like persons better than principles, and I like persons with no principles better than anything else in the world.
Oscar Wilde

There is only one thing in life worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about.
Oscar Wilde

Fred X. Quimby August 3, 2008 4:23 AM

I can see it now…

AP: Well-known author and expert on security, Bruce Schneier, born at 4:30 AM, is now denying he ever said “we have to worry about the government taking our freedoms.” No word yet on Mr. Schneier’s suicidal threat to “take his life like a terrorist.”

Manuel Delgado August 3, 2008 5:12 AM

Well, this means you are becoming a radically-quotable celebrity like Groucho Marx, Winston Churchill, and Oscar Wilde 😉 Congratulations!

By the way, I would like to draw your attention towards this TechCrunch interview to Cory Booker, Mayor of Newark, on how cameras and gunshot detection systems are helping them reduce crime rates:

It sounds to me like a bunch of unsustained claims on the effectiveness of the system: much ado about nothing.

volunteers August 3, 2008 7:58 AM

Ingrid Betancourt and Terry Waite, Daniel Pearl, and others whom I do not remember were volunteer hostages, they went to the terrorist and thought they were special and would not be taken. Its a very naive concept. She should have brough along some bogota picks on a pin.

William Wallace August 3, 2008 11:57 AM

Aye, fight and you may die. Run, and you’ll live… at least a while. And dying in your beds, many years from now, would you be willin’ to trade ALL the days, from this day to that, for one chance, just one chance, to come back here and tell our enemies that they may take our lives, but they’ll never take… OUR FREEDOM!

The President of the United States August 3, 2008 12:08 PM

I would like to say something to the … others who believe the greatest threat to America comes not from terrorists from within our country or beyond our borders, but from our own government.

. . .

I also know there have been law-breakers among those who espouse your philosophy.

. . .

The Weathermen of the radical left who resorted to violence in the 1960s were wrong. Today, the gang members who use life on the mean streets of America, as terrible as it is, to justify taking the law into their own hands and taking innocent life are wrong. The people who came to the United States to bomb the World Trade Center were wrong.

. . .

If you say that government is in a conspiracy to take your freedom away, you are just plain wrong.

. . .

How dare you suggest that we in the freest nation on Earth live in tyranny. How dare you call yourselves patriots and heroes.

. . .

There is nothing patriotic about hating your country, or pretending that you can love your country but despise your government.

Chris Thomas August 3, 2008 3:00 PM

Well…. At least it’s the truth…. No wonder it’s so surprising to so many people.

TruthOrDare August 3, 2008 6:18 PM

We must dare to say such things, because the truth is too dangerous to really say.
Trust, we do not anymore, in how such events, have taken place, with such a King John, The phony king of England.

David August 3, 2008 6:39 PM

Sometimes it’s hard to tell the difference between terrorists and governments.

Governments take away lives and freedom routinely. Terrorists successfully do this, too, at least freedom to associate and do as once pleases. But then governments have always been the best at using their monopoly on “legal” violence.

George W. Bush August 3, 2008 10:03 PM

“I Think War Is A Dangerous Place.”

“It’s Clearly A Budget. It’s Got A Lot Of Numbers In It”

“Rarely Is The Question Asked: Is Our Children Learning?”

“If Affirmative Action Means What I Just Described What I’m For, Then I’m
For It.”

“We’re Concerned About AIDS Inside Our White House- Make No Mistake about It.”

“We Spent A Lot Of Time Talking About Africa, As We Should. Africa Is A
Nation That Suffers From Incredible Disease.”

“For Every Fatal Shooting, There Were Roughly Three Non-Fatal Shootings.
And, Folks, This Is Unacceptable In America. It’s Just Unacceptable. And
We’re Going To Do Something About It.”

“Will the highways on the internet become more few?”

“I do not believe we’ve put a guilty – I mean innocent – person to death in the state of Texas.”

“Actually, I – this may sound a little West Texan to you, but I like it. When I’m talking about – when I’m talking about myself, and when he’s talking about myself, all of us are talking about me.”

“I know the human being and fish can coexist peacefully.”

“To those of you who received honors, awards and distinctions, I say well done. And to the C students, I say: You, too, can be president of the United States.”

“A dictatorship would be a heck of a lot easier, there’s no question about it.”

“When I take action, I’m not going to fire a 2 million dollar missile at a 10 dollar empty tent and hit a camel in the butt. It’s going to be decisive.”

“I couldn’t imagine somebody like Osama bin Laden understanding the joy of Hanukkah.”

“One Of The Great Things About Books Is, Sometimes There Are Some
Fantastic Pictures.”

“This Foreign Policy Stuff Is A Little Frustrating.”

“My trip to Asia begins here in Japan for an important reason. It begins here because for century and a half now, America and Japan have formed one of the great and enduring alliances of modern times. From that alliance has come an era of peace in the Pacific.”

“I Think We Agree- The Past Is Over.”

“Just remember, it’s the birds that’s supposed to suffer, not the hunter.”

“This is an impressive crowd — the haves and the have-mores. Some people call you the elites; I call you my base.”

“I think people attack me because they are fearful that I will then say that you’re not equally as patriotic if you’re not a religious person. … I’ve never said that. I’ve never acted like that. I think that’s just the way it is.”

“This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while. ”

“You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror.”

“I thought an interesting comment was made when somebody said to me, I heard somebody say, where’s Mandela? Well, Mandela is dead, because Saddam Hussein killed all the Mandelas.”

“I have opinions of my own, strong opinions, but I don’t always agree with them. ”

“There’s no bigger task than protecting the homeland of our country. ”

“Well, you know, I think the American people are sacrificing now. I think they’re waiting in airport lines longer than they’ve ever had before. ”

“Our enemies are innovative and resourceful, and so are we. They never stop thinking about new ways to harm our country and our people, and neither do we.”

“Let’s roll!”

Edward Abbey August 4, 2008 7:05 AM

“A patriot must always be ready to defend his country against his government.”

bob August 4, 2008 7:08 AM

I dont know about the “all a terrorist can do…” part but I have been stating the “only my government can attack my freedom” part for years.

I dont know if I ever heard anybody famous say it before then, but on 9/11 the instant I heard Pres Bush on TV saying “freedom has been attacked” my internal response was “No! Only my government can attack my freedom!” Which was indeed demonstrated – quite often since then.

Bill August 4, 2008 8:24 AM

What’s 1963 got to do with anything?

Perhaps the author included that date to create the ‘feeling’ of accuracy when there was no ‘actual’ accuracy. This is just accuracy theatre.

The (mis)quote resonates with a Mel McGibson line from the movie Braveheart.

L. Ronald Hub August 4, 2008 10:27 AM

They mis-attribute sayings to Confucius also.

This is offensive to the Church of Schneierology.

matt a August 4, 2008 11:26 AM

You were obviously a stunt double for Mel Gibson in Braveheart and couldn’t get the lines right…

William Wallace August 4, 2008 11:46 AM

You were obviously a stunt double
for Mel Gibson in Braveheart
and couldn’t get the lines right…

That’s why the character of Schneier the Bruce was written out of the movie.

“And if HE were here, he’d consume the English with fireballs from his eyes, and bolts of lightning from his arse.”

sooth_sayer August 4, 2008 1:01 PM

I always thought you meant :

Terrorist can only take “your” life; only government can take my freedom. <<

Todd August 5, 2008 2:11 PM

Remember, kids! If a republican says we should increase security, it’s a violation of our liberties. If a democrat does the same, it’s for our own good, after all there are people out there who mean us harm.

Chad Hower August 7, 2008 3:13 PM

That quote I think is much older than 2001. Its very similar to quotes that appear frequently in Libertarian forums. I think the only new thing added is a word changed to “Terrorist”.

In fact I think the original version goes back hundreds of years.

Troy August 22, 2008 2:27 PM

The original quote comes from Benjamin Franklin:
“Anyone who trades liberty for security deserves neither liberty nor security.”

There have been many attributions and various permutations of the sentiment, but the original was a founding principle of our republic.

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Sidebar photo of Bruce Schneier by Joe MacInnis.