We all want to feel safe. We want to feel the government is protecting us, but at the same time we want to feel that our freedoms are preserved. The Patriot Act infringes upon our civil liberties under the guise of security. Portions of the bill are soon up for renewal, and it has gotten there with very little press. It appears it will go renewed silently, without opposition.
The Patriot Act, originally passed in George W. Bush’s presidency in 2001, greatly reduced the privacy of Americans. Law enforcement agencies love this act because it gives them the ability to monitor telephone and email communications, as well as financial records much more easily than ever before in the history of the United States. As I’m sure most of you are aware, it’s intended to help curb terrorism (including domestic terrorism). The act passed easily in Congress, where it was supported by Republicans and Democrats. Interestingly, George Bush took some negative criticism over the Patriot Act, primarily from Democrats, despite the fact that many Democrats supported the bill. The bill was reauthorized in July, 2005 and passed into law in 2006.
The Patriot Act indeed threatens the fundamental civil liberties of Americans. One of the problems with the Patriot Act is that it is very broad and can apply not only to terrorists, but to suspected terrorists, lawful citizens, and essentially anyone deemed as a potential or suspected terrorist. Who defines what a terrorist is? Who comes up with the criteria? It should be obvious how easily this can be abused. This is only among the most obvious flaws of the Patriot Act. It has allowed the creation of things such “sneak and peak warrants,” wiretapping without a warrant, indefinite detention of immigrants, and several other atrocities.
President Obama renewed three provisions of the Act about a year ago. It’s now up for renewal again.
There is a good summary of the bill here, by the ACLU, that details the problems with the bill. You can also view an analysis of it by CATO, here. Within the bill, they detail roving wiretaps that allow the government to spy on individuals and even raid any place an individual has been over the past year. Section 215 allows the seizure of whatever records they want, including email, phone, and financial records. They don’t even have to let you know they’re doing this.
For those interested, a petition can be found here.
Good intentions often have negative, unintended consequences, and this is absolutely the case with the USA Patriot Act. Yes, we want to feel safe, but at what cost? I believe the cost here is far too high. When society allows such freedom for law enforcement and, consequently, such a loss of civil liberties and privacy, we should expect for our rights to only continue to be eroded. The Patriot Act has been in existence for ten years. Recently we’ve seen the installation of body scanners and more invasive pat-downs at airports. What’s next? It’s a wonder we don’t have such security at bus stations and malls yet. How long until the idea of a warrant is accepted as a foreign concept? Trading our freedom for security is a mistake we will have to pay for in the future.
Unfortunately, it’s the path America has chosen to walk.