The USA Patriot Act was a deal with the devil. On Oct. 26, 2001, the American public, still reeling from the terrorist attacks of 9/11, made a deal. U.S. citizens would grant the government unprecedented powers to invade the privacy of Americans and foreign citizens. In exchange, the government guaranteed our protection from terrorists bent on destruction halfway around the world.
The tools the Patriot Act gave law enforcement agencies and federal agents to protect American citizens were never clear, but amounted to a path circumventing constitutional due process. The specific goal of law was worrisomely vague. The bill states its aim, “To deter and punish terrorist acts in the U.S. and around the world, to enhance law enforcement investigatory tools, and other purposes.” Those “other purposes” are part of the cost we paid to regain a measure of the safety we felt has been lost.
Sadly, this is one of the few instances of bipartisanship still found in Washington, D.C. Former President George W. Bush originally enacted the law, but President Barack Obama extended several controversial measures. Neither party seems willing to take a stand against this unprecedented invasion of privacy. Neither party wants toallow the next massive terrorist attack on American soil because it is opposed to searching business records.
The battle regarding privacy rights of individuals will define law and politics the way segregation and voting rights defined previous generations. Already conflicts between privacy and corporations, social media and even employers rage in courts and legislatures throughout the nation. However, the biggest battle will be to answer one seemingly simple question: How high a price are we willing to pay for a sense of security? Americans must decide if they are willing to replace the threat of terrorism with thepromise of constant government surveillance.
Slowly, Americans are realizing sacrificing liberty and freedom to protect themselves is a false choice. We can prevent terrorism with the guidelines set by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. The federal government doesn’t need to place a rovingwiretap on citizens to prevent crime. If it has reason to suspect someone of criminal or terrorist intent it can acquire a legal warrant to wiretap him or her. Everything the government claims it needs to protect Americans from harm can easily be done without granting it any more power.
It is now the responsibility of individuals to push back against government power. The battle will be fought in courtrooms, judges’ offices, ballots and campaigns. Americans must demand an end to overreaching government measures compromising basic freedoms under the false guise of security.