Patriot Act deserves to be nixed, not updated

    Three years since its inception, the time has come to reevaluate and amend the USA Patriot Act, which was passed soon after 9/11 by an overwhelming margin in the House and Senate (357-66 in the House and 98-1 in the Senate). Congress is now holding hearings to determine the fate of the act.

    Roy Pak

    While fostering whirlwinds of debate, the Patriot Act has been utilized by law enforcement agencies since the terrorist attacks and has altered several critical laws concerning wiretapping, computer fraud and criminal procedure. The act has been the subject of controversy on all sides of the political spectrum, prompting disapproval from personages such as John Kerry, former Democratic presidential nominee, Russ Feingold, the lone Democratic senator who voted against the act and Newt Gingrich, who stated that “we must ensure that the legal tools provided are not abused, and indeed, that they do not undermine the very foundation our country was built upon.”

    Not only due to the written provisions but also because of what it represents, the act is a mixture of both contradictory wording and historical reiteration. In simpler terms: There is nothing “patriotic” about breaching the rights of civilians and repeating a history of injustice — a history that has been conveniently forgotten. Hopefully, Congress and the rest of those who hold power to revamp the Patriot Act will not repeat the blunder of allowing another period of abuse to fly by.

    To some, the line between national security and violation of civil liberty should be tenuous and translucent. The government has the prerogative and moral duty to protect its citizens, they argue, even if it means that any person can be a suspect without demonstrating, well, suspicious behavior. To others, the line should be rock solid and written in bold: Section 215, also known as the “Librarian’s Nightmare,” infringes upon American citizens by forcing organizations to disclose tangible records of their patrons in complete and utter silence. And that is just one single provision of the act (it is no coincidence or act of convenience that I omit the word “patriot” here).

    The First Amendment is breached here as well. The rights guaranteed by this amendment are what distinguish America as the land of freedom, touted by the great Statue of Liberty on our coast. However, under Section 215, a person’s mere presence at a religious gathering or click of a button on the Internet can be grounds for investigation by the government.

    Will checking out a book on kamikaze from Geisel make someone a prime suspect, or will participating in a peaceful protest do it? Exactly how much evidence of this so-called suspicious behavior must be acquired for a person to be America’s next big threat?

    It is this obscurity that enables the skeptical to draw the bold line between patriotism and abuse. There is no real cause behind these provisions, which only create an ironic effect: to protect the citizens from terror, the citizens must be terrorized themselves in more ways than one.

    The act is also counterproductive because rather than feeling protected, there is a sentiment of having nowhere to hide. Big Brother may well have already paid a visit to everyone who has contemplated the act. It isn’t the first time that our countrymen have felt this way, so it is inevitable to bring up the repetition of history at this point. The injustices of the act are reminiscent of the injustices of Japanese internment. Another common evocation is Senator McCarthy. Hollywood Ten, anyone?

    These worries seldom arose prior to the establishment of the Patriot Act, when the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act prevailed. Enacted in 1978, two major distinctions separate FISA as an acceptable bill: First, only foreign powers were targeted, and second, the act was utilized solely when there was a sufficient amount of justification — a “probable cause.”

    What does the government have to say about this fadeout of our rights? Will it soon be a disappearance in total?

    U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales stood before Congress at the beginning of this month asserting that the administration has been and will be very prudent in its decisions coinciding with the act. The Justice Department seeks to retain portions of the Patriot Act that are objectionable, such as the aforementioned Section 215, but maintains that citizens’ liberties will not be breached.

    Like the name “Patriot Act” itself, its claims are also contradictory to its actions. Let us examine a few examples provided by one of the organizations most actively opposed to the bill, the American Civil Liberties Union:

    According to reports, the Patriot Act has been used to secretly search the home of Brandon Mayfield, a Muslim attorney whom the government wrongly suspected, accused and detained as a perpetrator of the recent train bombing in Madrid.

    It has also been used to charge, detain and prosecute a Muslim student in Idaho, Sami al-Hussayen, for providing “material support” to terrorists by posting links to objectionable materials on a Web site, even though such links were available on the Web sites of a major news outlet and of the government’s own expert witness in the case.

    In addition, it has been used to serve a National Security Letter on an Internet service provider so coercive under the provisions of the NSL statue that a federal court struck down the entire statute — as vastly expanded by the Patriot Act — used to obtain information about e-mail activity and web surfing for intelligence investigations, not to mention gag that ISP from disclosing this abuse to the public, and gag the ACLU itself, which represents the ISP, from disclosing this abuse to the public when the ACLU became aware of it and from disclosing important circumstances relating to this abuse and other possible abuses of the gag, even to this very day.

    If the public backlash cannot convey to the federal government that we are in retrograde back to 1984, let’s hope the congressional hearings can.

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