Lucye Rafferty/The Hoya Michael Joiner (MSB ’06), a member of the College Republicans discusses the effects of the Patriot Act on civil rights, on Tuesday night in White Gravenor.

Partisans turned out Tuesday night for a fiery debate between the College Democrats and College Republicans on the USA Patriot Act.

The debate addressed whether the Patriot Act was a necessary measure for national security or an undue and discriminatory threat to civil rights.

It centered on how the Patriot Act affected existing American laws concerning civil rights and privacy, including the Constitution.

Michael Joiner (MSB ’06), a member of the College Republicans, said that the Patriot Act had made “modest changes” to existing laws.

“Those `modest changes’ are specifically the details that make the Patriot Act unconstitutional,” Arielle Holland (COL ’07), the freshman representative to the College Democrats rebutted. “There must be limits. There must be safeguards.”

The Patriot Act grants the federal government more leeway to conduct intelligence operations such as searches, wiretaps and investigations of personal records against suspected terrorists in the United States. The American Civil Liberties Union has charged the Patriot Act with undermining Fourth Amendment protections against unwarrantable search and seizure and First Amendment rights to free speech.

According to Holland, the Patriot Act violates the First Amendment because third parties that the government contacts in search of information are kept from disclosing that they have been contacted.

Holland and Mary Gibson (COL ’05), president of the College Democrats, said that library records and college transcripts can be examined by prosecutors.

The Republicans argued that the Patriot Act was a necessary measure in the post-Sept. 11, 2001 world.

“The framers of the Constitution could not possibly imagine the idea of terrorists switching cell phones several times a day,” College Republicans chief of staff James Hamilton (SFS ’05) said.

David Benjamin (COL ’05), president of the College Republicans, said that the Patriot Act does not punish “law-abiding dissenters,” but rather foreign nationals who seek to act against the country.

The Democrats countered by arguing that Patriot Act cases go through a Federal Intelligence Surveillance Act court judge, where the majority of court proceedings can go undisclosed. The Democrats contended that the secrecy in these cases leads to injustices.

Chirag Dedania (SFS ’06), a College Democrats board member, said that the government should take steps including hiring more Arabic translators to assist in intelligence gathering measures.

Many students in the audience participated in the debate.

“The ultimate right is life, and these terrorists want to take that away from us,” Joe Zwosta (COL ’07) said.

Others questioned the efficacy and timing of the act in the context of a post-Sept. 11 world.

“Does [the Patriot Act] protect American lives?” Bradley Gorski (COL ’07) asked. “Why do we need it? Why are we having this debate right now?”

Each side offered closing responses that paralleled the opening arguments of the debate.

“The Bill of Rights is not a suicide pact . safety of the people is the highest law,” said Jadey Hsin (COL ’07), a freshman representative for the College Republicans.

Dedania warned of dangers in Patriot II, a second similar law that would go further in granting power to federal authorities in order to detain terrorists.

“How much freedom are you willing to give up for security?” he asked.

Representatives from both the College Democrats and Republicans agreed that the event was a success.

“We had 120 people in a room that were passionate,” urphy Gallagher (COL ’06), communications director for the College Republicans, said.

“The speeches were great, everyone made really good points,” Gibson added.

Both Gibson and Gallagher said that plans for more debates between the Democrats and Republicans are underway.

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