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Patriot Act Is Upon You

April 3, 2009
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A Crucial Choice: Safe or Free?

      Imagine your mind is at ease knowing that you and your loved ones remain unharmed by terrorists. Imagine yourself sleeping soundly at night thinking those that govern this country do so by upholding its citizens’ rights as declared in our Constitution. But what if those in power not only were derelict in their duties to uphold those rights, but were actually passing laws that circumvented or even violated some of those fundamental rights? Open your eyes America and allow me to introduce to you the Patriot Act, a law that undermines some basic, fundamental rights imparted to us by the Bill of Rights. The Patriot Act directly disregards some of the very rights under which our government was created.

      The Patriot Act was enacted 45 days following the September 11th attacks (ACLU). According to the government, the act was enacted “to deter and punish terrorist acts in the United States and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and for other purposes” (E.P.I.C.). The purpose declared here is sensible. In response to those who opposed the Patriot Act, U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft, the Bush Administration’s key player in defense of the Act, asserts that:  

 

America’s defense…requires a new culture of prevention, nurtured by  
 cooperation… [and] our survival and success…demands that we continuously  adapt and improve our capabilities to protect America from a fanatical, ruthless  enemy (BOOK).

Those in Congress who voted in favor of the Patriot Act typically emphasized that the sections of the Patriot Act that seem restrictive to target potential terrorists in order to defend the country.

      The Patriot Act violates some of our most essential civil liberties that are clearly imparted by the Bill of Rights. In some cases, it violates multiple aspects of one right. For example, the Fourth Amendment allows for the “people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures…and no warrants shall issue but upon probable cause…. However, Section 215 of the Patriot Act curtails our right against unreasonable seizures without probable cause by expanding the government’s power to “demand personal customer records …without prior court approval” (ACLU). Prior to this Act, no government official could ask for or obtain private records without consent or probable cause.

      Furthermore, Section 215 under Title II allows the “FBI to order any organization to turn over ‘any tangible thing’ as long as the FBI claims that it is ‘sought for’ an ongoing foreign intelligence or terrorism investigation” (Howard 73-74). Such language clearly invites violations of the Fourth Amendment since the government can confiscate any item of a person by merely claiming that there is need to do so. The government includes the words “foreign intelligence” or “terrorism,” to provide them with the “right” to confiscate a person’s personal belongings without having probable cause “or even believe that its surveillance target is engaged in criminal activity, terrorism, or espionage” (ACLU). Here, we see how the Act eviscerates multiple aspects of one of our most basic civil liberties—those afforded by the Fourth Amendment.

      The Act also undermines one of our most treasured rights—the right to freedom of speech. The First Amendment of the Bill of Rights reads, “Congress shall make no law…abridging the freedom of speech” (World Book 302). This right, the freedom to voice critical or unpopular ideas without fear of government censorship, is a cornerstone of American society. Yet the Patriot Act effectively restricts free speech. In connection with expanding the FBI’s power to secure personal records without court approval or probable cause, Section 215 of the Act states “no person shall disclose to any other person (other than those persons necessary to produce the tangible things under this section) that the Federal Bureau of Investigation has sought or obtained tangible things under this section.” In other words, those who received NSLs (National Security Letters) “were legally forbidden from speaking out” about the request for private information on its customers (Webster). The Patriot Act expands the area under which the FBI can access records and personal information and forces the owners of such information to keep silent. Therefore, Section 215 of the Patriot Act “violates the First Amendment’s guarantee…by prohibiting the recipients of search orders from telling others about those orders, even where there is no real need for secrecy” (ACLU). Under the Bill of Rights, the government does not have the legal right to silence the people that are required to share such information.

      The Patriot Act does more than merely create legal loopholes or subtly erode our civil liberties: it seeks to operate contrary to the Bill of Rights, including the Fifth Amendment. The Fifth Amendment states that no person may be “deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law” (World Book 302). The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), an organization whose mission is to protect the people’s rights, has filed seven lawsuits as of mid-2004 challenging governmental actions under the Patriot Act (Howard 77). During a case review it was noted that “hundreds were taken from their homes ‘without warning or explanation’… [and] ‘no charges or explanations for their detentions were given either publicly or in private” (Howard 78-79). Here we see that cases exist in which government organizations directly violate Fifth Amendment rights. The government’s actions disregarded due process of law, and they did so in adhering to the Patriot Act rather than the Bill of Rights —. In other reports, there are details of the Department of Justice “detain[ing] 762 persons, most of Arab and Asian origin” (Howard 85). Disturbingly, there was a “final count [of] more than 1,100 aliens [who] were held for months” without being told why they were detained or what “crimes” they had committed (Howard 85). Unfortunately, it was not until much later that the “detainees were investigated and innocent residents released” (Howard 85). Not only are families left uninformed of where their loved ones are, but the detainee himself is similarly uninformed as to where he is being taken or why. Even more disheartening is that there is no compensation for the loss of liberty during the period in which innocent people are held—liberty that is afforded explicitly by the Fifth Amendment of our Constitution.

      It is disingenuous that our very own government has passed an act that infringes upon our most basic rights, rights that were put in place to create a “better, more perfect union.” The Bush Administration argued that the Act was put in place for our benefit; yet should we allow such an Act to stand when it threatens civil liberties more than it minimizes the threat of terrorism? The choice is yours and yours alone to reevaluate and assist in modifying the guidelines that keep our nation “terrorist free.” Innocent citizens are at risk, and you are one of them. 
 

 
 Jennifer Ferguson  (guest author)

Prof. English-Bircher

WRC 1023 Paper 4

Mar. 31, 2009

Works Cited

American Civil Liberties Union. American Civil Liberties Union. 26 Mar 2009 <http://www.aclu.org/>.

Ball, Howard. The USA Patriot Act. Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO, Inc., 2004. John Peace Library. University of Texas at San Antonio.

“Bill of Rights.”  World Book. 2008. John Peace Library. University of Texas at San Antonio.

“U.S.A. Patriot Act.” Electronic Privacy Information Center. 24 Oct 2001. 26 Mar 2009 <http://epic.org/privacy/terrorism/hr3162.html>.

Webster, Stephen C. “Court Sides with ACLU, Strikes Down Patriot Act Gag Provision.” The Raw Story. 16 Dec 2008. 26 Mar 2009 <http://www.rawstory.com/news/2008/Court_sides_with_ACLU_strikes_down_1216.html>.

 

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