Passed in a rush after the September 11th terrorist attacks, The Patriot Act provides the government, including law enforcement agencies, with new, unregulated powers aimed, supposedly, at protecting the country from future terrorism. These new powers, previously denied to law enforcement, threaten our most basic civil liberties and, some believe, violate the constitution. Passage of this act eliminated checks and balances previously in place to ensure that law enforcement and other government agencies would not abuse surveillance powers on American citizens.
One could argue, however, that despite the Patriot Act and its violation of civil liberties, the government has always been able to violate American civil liberties. Patriot Act or not, we might never have had these protected rights to begin with. The Senate and the House of Representatives passed the Patriot Act on October 24, 2001, and on October 26, President Bush signed the act into law. In the aftermath of September 11, the nation was in a vulnerable state, and passing the Patriot Act was as easy as pie.
In fact, it took five weeks, from introduction to final version to pass 342 pages that affect over 15 statutes (www. eff. org. ) It did not even seem like the Senate had time to read it; they just passed it on through with out any problems. Lawmakers used the events of September 11 and peoples' fears to pass the Patriot Act. September 11 created a state of panic-the country was angry and wanted something to be done, so the government passed the Patriot Act. They took peoples' willingness for change and used it to gain more power.
People did not realize at first how much power the Patriot Act actually gave the government. According to John Ashcroft, the Attorney General, the Patriot Act made only "modest and incremental" changes in the law. These "modest" changes now include unregulated wiretapping of telephones and monitoring of online activities. Under provisions of the Patriot Act, the government may spy on U. S. citizens and obtain search warrants and subpoenas like never before.
There are a lot of different opinions about the Patriot Act and its implications, but the fact is that most people don't necessarily understand all the politics involved in deciding what laws and acts are actually passed. Now that some the major players originally involved in passing the Patriot Act have actually had an opportunity to read it, they are having serious reservations. Several major cities, three states, and 152 communities have passed resolutions denouncing the Patriot Act as "an assault on civil liberties. " How bad are the effects of the Patriot Act?
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is completely against the Patriot Act and claims that it is a violation of our civil liberties. They also question a lot of what the Department of Justice (DOJ) releases on the subject. Since most citizens have not actually read the Patriot Act, their opinions are skewed by other people. And since both the ACLU and the DOJ spread a lot of propaganda and distort a lot of the facts, it makes it harder to see the bigger picture. The truth is probably that, while many things contained in the Patriot Act are very radical, other parts are not so bad.
The Patriot Act requires, in part, that some previously unregulated activities now be regulated. On the other hand, it greatly expands government powers and allows certain agencies to spy on ordinary people without probable cause or any kind of evidence. The most frightening part about the Patriot Act seems to be its lack of specificity. This leaves the government with a lot of power to define exactly what the Patriot Act really means. Section 215 is one of the most debated and controversial sections of the Patriot Act because it affects the privacy rights of all U. S. citizens.
Under this section, the FBI can access any records it wants, from financial records to movie rentals, and they can do all of these without an individual's knowledge or consent. Before the Patriot Act, the government needed at least a warrant and probable cause to access someone's personal records. Now the FBI only needs to tell a judge that the search protects against terrorism, and the judge has no authority to reject the application. There have already been lawsuits challenging Section 215. On July 30 of 2003, the ACLU filed a lawsuit on behalf of six Arab Muslim Americans.
The plaintiffs argued that Section 215 of the Patriot Act violates the Constitution and "vastly expands the power of the FBI to obtain records and other 'tangible things' of people not suspected of criminal activity. " The new government powers provided by the Patriot Act impinge on individual rights. But, these rights were never really their. It was just a false sense of security given to the American people. The reality is that the only thing that's changed is that it has been written down — now the government has the authority to violate people's rights.
We never truly had privacy rights in the first place; it has always been just an illusion. The only thing that might change is the amount of times and ease with which peoples' rights are violated. This country is still fighting to protect civil rights. Americans go on about how we live in a free country — "America is the land of the free. " America does not have that many freedoms compared to other countries. People get this idea that living in America is the best thing ever. Compared to other countries, life in the States is a lot more controlled and regulated.
How can it be called the "land of the free" if people run from anything that is different by restricting it or throwing it away? Perhaps a new definition of freedom is needed. In a "free" America, there would be freedom to create restrictions, freedom to restrict freedom as a group, and the freedom to fight the created restrictions. As the Patriot Act is being revisited, we really need to stop and take a look at were we are now and think about what direction we want to be heading in the future.
Since this country was founded based upon the belief that peoples rights come before every thing else. Americans have a chose to make, weather or not we want to protect our founding fathers original beliefs. Or if we want to take the easy way out and destroy the ideals upon witch this country was founded on. One thing that we should try and keep in mind is that the right way is not necessarily always the easiest way. Since we are always held at such high standards and always put on the spot light by every one, we need to try and set a good example even if it does take a little more effort.