Editorial

The U.S.A. Patriot Act was signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 26 after the bill flew through Congress with little opposition. This antiterrorism legislation expands the federal government’s power to wiretap and gather foreign intelligence, among other things.

Though the bill was obviously a direct reaction to the Sept. 11 attacks and its scope is somewhat limited, the Guardian supports its provisions, and we commend Congress and the president for making it law.

The law can be effective on organized efforts to commit terrorism on the United States because it goes after terrorists and their money, as opposed to simply beefing up nationwide security.

Just increasing security at airports and other strategic locations around the country does little to prevent terrorism. There is practically an infinite number of targets in this country, and there is no way we can make all of them secure. We are much better off going after the terrorists themselves, which is exactly what this legislation attempts to do.

Among the important points of the act are provisions that expand federal authorities’ ability to wiretap those suspected of being involved in terrorism.

Before the bill was signed, federal agents obtained warrants to tap specific phones. This is ridiculous, because it is not the phone that they are interested in, but the suspect using the phone. This legislation attaches the warrant to the suspected individuals so that no matter how many cell phones they go through, or how many phone lines they have direct access to, authorities will still be able to access their telephone conversations in gathering intelligence.

The legislation also extends the same wiretapping rights to e-mail. This is necessary and fair; there is simply no reason that an electronically sent message should be more protected than a telephone conversation.

Another controversial provision allows the government to detain immigrants suspected of being involved in terrorism for up to seven days without filing charges.

This gives federal authorities more freedom to question suspected terrorists — say, at an airport or border crossing — without actually having probable cause. Currently, if suspected international terrorists are known to be in the country, they cannot be questioned unless they commit a crime, or unless authorities have enough evidence to actually charge them with a crime. This simply cannot be done sometimes, especially if the person is suspected of terrorist activity in other countries.

There is potential for these particular provisions to be abused. This cannot be denied. However, lawmakers realized this possibility and wisely included a sunset clause that causes the wiretapping and detention provisions to expire in four years unless they are explicitly passed into law again. If abuse is discovered, we are not stuck with this law.

The remaining provisions are aimed mostly at finding terrorists’ money by requiring more disclosure by foreign banks, among other less significant details.

We must allow our government the tools to fight terrorism here in the United States. It is a sad fact that we will never be able to prevent terrorism. This bill helps the federal government pursue larger, more organized terrorist networks, and in that respect it could save many lives in the long run.

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