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Losing our liberty in the name of fighting terrorism
By Tom DeWeese
America may have reached a turning point on July 22, 2003 in the battle to restore and protect civil liberties threatened by the Patriot Act. On that day the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to pass two amendments that restore the rule of law by denying the Justice Department the ability to sneak into private homes and peek at private records without a warrant.
The House also unanimously passed an amendment to prohibit the Justice Department
from forcing libraries and bookstores to turn over records of books read
by their patrons.
No one, after 9-11, can doubt that our nation and our personal safety have been attacked by Islamic fanatics bent on imposing their religion via "jihad" or holy war. Our government has been energized to fight the terrorism that has taken more than 3,000 lives here in America. Unlike previous conflicts, we are not dealing with a nation, but with a shadowy, global movement.
As free Americans, however, we must ask some serious questions. Are the tactics implemented here necessary? Are they effective? Are our liberties protected? Is there a separate agenda being pursued?
We have been told that the grandest weapon created in the war against terrorism is the Patriot Act. Its aim, according to the Justice Department, is to give federal law enforcement agencies the surveillance and investigative tools they need to prevent future terror attacks. Given the failure of agencies such as the FBI and CIA to detect and prevent 9-11 with all the laws and tools at their disposal, is it reasonable to say we need to now ignore the Constitution in order to provide more protection?
The quick, emotional passage of the Patriot Act only weeks after the September
11, 2001, attacks allowed little time for scrutiny of its measures. In fact,
most members of Congress did not read it before voting. As a result, it deprives
Americans of protections that are the very essence of the Constitution.
Coming in October is a new provision of the Act that requires fuller identification
of bank customers. In the year before 9-11 more than 150,000 Americans protested
these very provisions in a scheme by the FDIC called "Know Your Customer." Americans
said those provisions were too invasive of their privacy, but now, special
software will help firms in 25 finance-related industries to compare millions
of customer records with thousands of entries on federal blacklists. Businesses
such as car dealers, insurance companies, investment brokers, lenders and
real estate firms will be required to file "Suspicious Activity Reports" to
the Treasury Department.
Section 102 makes "collecting intelligence" a terrorist crime, "regardless of whether it is illegal" (according to a Department of Justice analysis). This can be interpreted to mean that reading foreign newspapers online and saving them to your hard drive is a terrorist act.
Sections 103 and 122 give the executive branch the power to engage in electronic surveillance of Americans without a court order for up to 15 days, whenever the US is under a state of emergency. For the record, the United States has been under a continuous state of emergency since Franklin Roosevelt declared it during World War II. Every president since then has signed executive orders to continue it. Section 106 exempts federal agents from liability for engaging in surveillance of suspects without a court order.
Section 110 removes the "sunset" provisions on some surveillance clauses in the first Patriot Act. Those "sunset" provisions were the guarantees that initially built support in Congress to pass the Patriot Act. Americans were assured that the issue was fighting terrorism and when that battle was over we would then restore any liberties that had been trampled on.
Government almost never gives back power.
Section 123 expands the time limits on wiretaps and gives judges less power to demand progress reports on wiretaps. Section 126 gives federal agents the power to secretly obtain credit reports and other consumer information. This destroys the firewall between private sector and government information collection and lays the groundwork for another invasive government snoop called Total Information Awareness.
Section 313 lifts civil liability from businesses that report "suspected terrorists" to the federal government, no matter how illegitimate or malicious the tip is. It means you lose the right to sue if someone falsely accuses you, ruins your reputation, costs you your job or your family or your freedom. This lays the groundwork for one of the most insidious ideas yet to come out of this government – TIPS – a Gestapo for squealers and busybodies to turn in their neighbor. Just hope nobody hates you that much.
This bill amounts to little more than an unofficial declaration of martial law. It is just short of repeal of the writ of Habeas Corpus, the very root of the rule of law that grants all Americans the protections of the American justice system.
Both Attorney General Ashcroft and Homeland Security Secretary Ridge have
expressed support for repeal of the Posse Comitatus law that bans the merger
of civilian police forces with the U.S. military. That means instead of having
your home raided by the local S.W.A.T. team, you may expect a visit from
the 101st Airborne.
We are not being protected. We are being wrapped in a cocoon of tyranny. All of the signs are there. We are witnessing the erosion of American liberty in the name of fighting the most primitive force on earth. Americans, however, must ask themselves who is invading their lives more, the government or the terrorists? Who is the greater long-term threat?
John Adams said it best when he wrote, "A constitution of government,
once changed from freedom, can never be restored; liberty, once lost, is
lost forever." Adams and all of the founders are watching us now and
they know one truth that we must all relearn very quickly. The only way to
make sure that government doesn't abuse its power is to not grant power in
the first place.
Tom DeWeese is the publisher/editor of The DeWeese Report and president of the American Policy Center, a grassroots activist think tank. The Center maintains an Internet site at www.americanpolicy.org. © Tom DeWeese 2003
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