A Patriot Act for Everyone

March 10, 2011
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The United States of America was founded upon the principles of freedom, including the freedom to speak out against an oppressive government, and the freedom to believe in anything or anyone. Our sacred doctrine becomes threatened by the passage of the Patriot Act, a statute supposedly intended to promote the security of the public following the tragedy of September 11th. This reactionary document holds the ability to destroy the very foundations that the Founding Fathers set in stone, by ambiguously defining terrorism, bypassing certain constitutional guarantees and failing to protect the rights of the people as a result of its flawed legislative process.
The Patriot Act includes extremely vague clauses that allow for the abuse of power to take place. Terrorism remains a subjective topic, garnering different opinions from different people, but can be generally defined as an intentional act with the sole purpose of inciting fear or panic onto innocents. This broad definition becomes an egregious problem, as nearly any action can be interpreted as terrorism depending on a person’s viewpoint or bias. No matter how well-intentioned a federal agent may be, they remain human and possibly crush both civil and individual rights while doing what they believe will protect the country. In fact, the Federal Bureau of Investigation and other types of law enforcement agencies are given access to anything and everything “identified as relevant under the language of section 508 […] covering not only those suspected of carrying out a broad range of overt terrorist actions, but also those suspected of engaging in acts that, for example, appear to be intended to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion” (Murphy). As a result, most of the terrorism cases taken over by the Department of Justice were more than likely to be mere, simple crimes rather than full-blown terrorist activities. A study by the General Accounting Office in January of 2003 concluded that, “of those convictions classified as international terrorism, fully 75 percent actually dealt with more common non-terrorist crimes” (Dority). The Department of Justice, the one responsible for the operation of the Patriot Act, wrongly accuses the majority of the cases it tries. When a government accuses the very people it is intended to defend falsely, it clearly shows the lack of both the character and the conviction necessary for the protection of the safety and interests of the general public.
Perhaps an even more deplorable infraction of the Patriot Act comes from its ability to completely circumvent certain constitutional safeguards held sacrosanct since the nation’s inception. The Founding Fathers had long established the principles that would guide the country by implementing the Constitution along with a Bill of Rights in order to ensure that the interests of individuals are protected from that of an oppressive government. However, in this case, the government infringes on the rights on the very people it was intended to look after. The government and other law enforcement agencies are now able to sidestep the fourth amendment; in fact, section 215 of the Patriot Act authorizes these groups to “obtain any tangible thing relevant to a terrorism investigation, even if there is no showing that the thing pertains to suspected terrorists or terrorist activities” (Rosenzweig). The Patriot Act allows law enforcement agencies absolute power unchecked by the usual constitutional safeguard, judicial review. The prospect of the government to acquire certain, sensitive information without the consent of its citizens violates personal privacy laws and contradicts the political ideologies that the country was built upon. In addition, the Patriot Act permits the FBI to compel the production of materials they deem connected to terrorism or terrorist purposes without showing probable cause. Consider the case of Senator Joseph McCarthy, who in the era of the Cold War triggered a massive frenzy over Communism by accusing certain individuals of treason with a justification being that there was no simply evidence to prove otherwise. The Patriot Act recalls that chaotic period, when the government possessed the ability to wrongly accuse the public of terrorist activities without any reasonable cause or indication what-so-ever. Yet another constitutional offense exists within the Patriot Act in that it unfairly targets immigrants or aliens by giving the government the ability to certify whether an alien is a terrorist, if they have engaged in terrorist activity, and finally detain them for an unspecified period of time as shown in the political cartoon (Cole 52). According to the Cornell Law School, “US citizens (labeled "unlawful combatants") have been held incommunicado and refused attorneys.” The system exemplifies a violation of the sixth amendment as well as racial segregation, with the merits of a person based upon their ethnicity, their beliefs, or the way they choose to dress. Unfortunately, immigrants are misrepresented as the ever-present threat when terrorists come not only from overseas, but also from within the state such as with Jihad Jane, the infamous United States native who conspired with Al-Qaeda in an attempt to murder an artist who had depicted the prophet Muhammad’s head on the body of a dog.
Another problem of the Patriot Act comes from the erroneous congressional process through which it became a law. After the tragedy of September 11th, 2001, President George W. Bush, and Congress rushed to find new tools, both technological and legal, to protect against future terrorist attacks. Introduced on October 23rd, the Patriot Act was eventually passed the next day by a vote in favor of 357 to 66 in the House of Representatives. Eventually Bush himself signed the bill into effect three days later on October 26th, a mere six weeks after the attacks. This haste of action came with a heavy cost however as nearly all of the members of Congress did not read the Patriot Act or analyze it properly for constitutional infringements. Representative Robert Scott of Virginia stated that “[The Patriot Act] is not the bill that was reported and deliberated on in the Committee on the Judiciary. […] No one has really had an opportunity to look at the bill to see what is in it since [Congress has] been out of [their] offices” (Murphy). The fact that the men and women the people have elected to vote on and pass laws to benefit the public do not even read the bills they support is astonishing. This hurried process clearly indicates the widespread panic for safety measures in the United States at the time without taking the option of reviewing the legislation beforehand. In addition, anti-terrorist mentality came into full effect during the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. In fact, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy and Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle, two Congressmen dedicated to the deceleration of the breakneck pace that the bill was being ratified, were targets of an anthrax attack. This, combined with the realization of possible dangers, contributed to the flawed legislative process that the Patriot Act was involved in. The rationale that those who attempted to slow the passage of the bill supported terrorism permeated, and as such many congressmen and women became victims of conformity.
American citizens enjoy the fact that they currently reside in the freest country in the world, one where the government acknowledges individual rights and whose purpose is to guard those rights for all of its inhabitants. However, when a government seeks to sacrifice civil liberties for a feeling of security, the line must be drawn. The Patriot Act directly violates the rights of those who make up the nation-the citizens. It has always been and will continue to be the responsibility of the people to solve the problems that plague this nation, but the people also must remain free to continue doing so.
Works Cited
Cole, David. The Patriot Act Unfairly Targets Immigrants to Enchance National Security. Farmington Hills, MI: Thomson Gale, 2005. 52. Print.
Dority, Barbara. "The USA PATRIOT Act Has Decimated Many Civil Liberties." San Diego: Greenhaven Press, 2005. Web.
Gonzales, Alberto. "The Patriot Act Gives Investigators Tools for Fighting Terrorism in the 21st Century." Current Controversies: Domestic Wiretapping. Detroit: Greenhaven Press, 2008. Web.
Murphy, Laura. "USA Patriot Act." American Civil Liberties Union. ACLU Foundation, 18/02/2011. Web. 25 Feb 2011.
"Patriot Act vs. Constitution." Concerned Citizens Against the Patriot Act. Bonnevie Computing, n.d. Web. 25 Feb 2011.
Rosenzweig, David. "The Unconstitutional Patriot Act." Restoring Citizen Authority Over Corporations. Los Angeles Times, 27/01/2004. Web. 25 Feb 2011.

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