THE PATRIOT ACT, SECURITY VERSUS FREEDOM

Congress is having a debate about the Patriot Act. It is about time!

When the Patriot Act was originally passed virtually no debate occurred. America was in turmoil after having been attacked on 9/11. Fear and insecurity reigned supreme. The vote in the Senate for the last renewal of the Patriot Act only had one negative vote. The question became whether or not America had given up too much liberty for security.

Just the name alone, the Patriot Act, is troublesome. How can taking away privacy be patriotic?

In a humorous vein, a comedian, John Cleese, once surmised that you can do anything under the Patriot Act. Of course, he meant that the government could do anything regarding surveillance under the Patriot Act.

The founders of our Republic felt that privacy was important. In expressing this importance the 4th Amendment in our Bill of Rights was written to insure for posterity the rights of the people. The 4th Amendment states, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the person or things to be seized.”

The Bush Administration claimed that a new era of terror had commenced upon that fateful day when America was attacked by Al Qaeda. More Americans died that day than were killed at Pearl Harbor. President Bush claimed that as a result of the threat of further acts of terror, America needed the Patriot Act to protect us.

America faces a huge and important conundrum, whether to give up freedom for security. Ben Franklin wisely stated that if you are willing to give up freedom for security you deserve neither.  In Franklin’s day citizens had to worry about the absolute power of kings and their assumed right to invade a person’s property just because they felt like it..

Today we have Al Qaeda and we have ISIS, groups of criminals who have made war on civilians. Part of the difficulty is the wisdom of Justice Jackson’s admonition that the Constitution is not a suicide pact. So as a people what do we do?

One should admit that technology is amazing and that the use of it to analyze phone calls and computer usage can and does help find the bad guys out there. ISIS and Al Qaeda have no regrets when it comes to attacking and killing non-combatants.

ISIS is recruiting young people. Perhaps we would be wise to not listen to everyone’s conversations but rather develop a profile upon which the efforts of our FBI and CIA can focus on those much more likely to do harm rather than to listen into everyone’s conversations or writings on the internet. What guarantees do we have that some other private actions being exposed during surveillance might be used for ill by the possessor of the information? A violation of a person’s privacy is indeed a slippery slope, dangerous, too dangerous to depend on the trustworthiness of those who have the newly gained information about we the people. But and there is a big but in this case, the danger to the public that ISIS presents is very real, and we need to figure out how to deal with the danger without losing our rights in the process.

We should thank Senator Rand Paul for helping to put the right focus on the discussion of security versus freedom. Perhaps the renewal of the debate and allowing the Patriot Act to expire will allow Congress to pass a new law which would include more protections for we the people from unreasonable searches. Probable cause should still be a standard upon which a judge would determine if a search is in fact reasonable. Yes, exigent circumstances can occur whereby the public safety of the public might require quick action to enable law enforcement officers to do what is necessary to protect the people from attack. Our freedom and our safety can be in conflict, but we must err on the side of freedom. If we allow people to terrorize us to the point to where we live in fear and our freedom and privacy are violated without cause we are all the losers. Security is not worth it if we lose our freedom in the process.

Has the FREEDOM ACT freed us of the Patriot Act? Inquiring minds want to know?

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