Patriot Act's Focus on Terror Trumps Other Vital Problems
October 8, 2005 4:07 PM
Four years after the Patriot Act was enacted in hopes to combat terrorism, some critics have questioned whether Americans are any safer now than before the terrorist attacks of 9-11.
Congress passed the Patriot Act on Oct. 6, 2001 and required 16 provisions to expire at the end of this year unless they renewed it. It was designed to help national security investigations by expanding the government’s surveillance powers but several advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union objected to the law because they maintained that it infringed upon civil rights.
The new Anti-Terrorism Intelligence Tools Improvement Act, HR 3179 was introduced by Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) and Rep. Porter Goss (R-Fla., now CIA Director).
Two versions of the bill, one by the House that would make 14 of 16 provisions permanent and extend the other two by ten years, while the Senate extension is for four years, paved the way for fall negotiations.
The Political Science Student Association (PSSA), a non-partisan organization, hosted a town hall meeting of 20 persons on Monday, Oct. 3 at SF State to debate the Patriot Act’s effectiveness.
Adrian Covert, 22, a political science senior and president of the PSSA, said the Patriot Act had a precedent in the Sedition Act of World War I, which was far more overreaching than the Patriot Act.
He also said the bulk of the Patriot Act was concerned with reorganizing the various intelligent agencies so the FBI and CIA could share information, which he explained was previously illegal.
“The majority of the Act is a net good thing for the U.S.,” said Covert. “One could argue that we have not had a terror attack on U.S. soil since 9-11. I don’t know that it’s due to the Act but proponents cite that as proof of its effectiveness.”
He went on to say that he was concerned about the Act’s provision allowing the government to probe into the library records of citizens. He maintained this authority places some people under government suspicion just because of the materials they borrow from a library. Certain parts of the Act should be removed permanently, he said.
Peter Zerzan, 20, a political science junior, said 9-11 was a horrible tragedy and everyone would like to see the perpetrators brought to justice. He went on that there is a difference between justice and vengeance, and since 9-11 the U.S. has been pursuing the latter.
“We have waged wars without any thought of how it affects the world,” said Zerzan. “We have broken liberties we have had for the last 100 years. The U.S. has been breaking laws - spying on and detaining people, to get people who weren’t even responsible for 9-11.”
The Congress was forced into a position to make a hasty decision about the Patriot Act and now they need to slow down the process to expand it said Dell Brooks, 33, a political science junior and vice president of PSSA.
“There’s way too much freedom for the government to violate our civil rights,” said Brooks. “I’d like to see checks and balances on the FBI before their powers are expanded.
“Most people feel it’s fruitless, but if enough people express an opinion to a senator it will give them pause,” Brooks added. “If you’re silent, you’re basically giving Congress support.”
Among the new amendments to the Act are requirements that the FBI must gain approval from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court before seizing documents from financial companies, libraries, and doctors' offices.
The pending legislation does not take into account a recent decision in Los Angeles by U.S. District Court Judge Audrey Collins who ruled that several terms in the Patriot Act were "impermissibly vague" and violate the Fifth Amendment.
However, influential business organizations complained to Congress that the Patriot Act has made it too simple to procure confidential business records.
A coalition called Association of Corporate Counsel, which includes the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, has proposed amendments that would require investigators to disclose how the data they seek is linked to suspected terrorists, and permit businesses to challenge the subpoenas in court.
Joel Kassiola, dean of the College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, said it is important for all citizens to understand how the Patriot Act affects them.
“(Bush) can’t be a one-issue administration however important terrorism might be,” said Kassiola. “The Bush Administration, from an outsider’s point of view, is focusing on terrorism while losing sight of nuclear proliferation, third world debt, global warming, the AIDS pandemic and other problems.”
Covert ended the forum paraphrasing the patriot Benjamin Franklin, “Those who would sacrifice freedom in the name of temporary security deserve neither.”
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