The USA Patriot Act of 2001 poses a new and frightening threat to the civil liberties of all Americans. With bipartisan support in both houses of Congress following the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks, the bill passed easily and without much debate. Only after the smoke had cleared over New York City and the rest of the nation did Americans realize the full gravity of the situation. Federal agencies, including the FBI and CIA, received broad authority to obtain physical evidence in any cases of suspected terrorism, as well as the ability to suspend habeas corpus based on any small suspicion of terrorist activity.

First and foremost, the American people should be outraged that the government has effectively impinged upon basic liberties as provided in the Bill of Rights. One can easily make a long list of the transgressions allowed under the Patriot Act. The First Amendment to the Constitution provides all with the freedom of speech. While the Patriot Act does not prevent citizens from voicing their beliefs, it does effectively allow the government to obtain warrants for information based on those specific attitudes. Political speech that may be critical of the U.S. government and its policies now justifies a search under the Patriot Act. This Viewpoint alone is enough to validate a search or wiretap, and considering that law enforcement may conduct said actions in secret, I may never know if the government is monitoring me as a suspected terrorist.

The First Amendment and its implications on searches logically lead one to the Fourth Amendment. One should certainly deem investigations based on an individual’s speech as “unreasonable.” Furthermore, an agency seeking a warrant no longer has the burden of showing probable cause. Probable cause implies that if a search occurs, there is a high probability that the results will be fruitful. When searches are allowed under any suspicion of terrorist activity there is a very low probability that most searches will uncover a terrorist plot. The original intent of one of the founding fathers’ basic freedoms completely disappears, as does the “right to privacy” that numerous Supreme Courts have inferred from this amendment (Griswold v. Connecticut and Roe v. Wade most notably).

In addition to violating basic civil liberties, the Patriot Act also ignores basic human rights and Article I, Section 9 of the Constitution, which states, “The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public safety may require it.” While Sept. 11, 2001 indeed marked a horrendous attack, one can hardly classify a dozen men participating in terrorist activity as a rebellion or an invasion, especially in comparison to the extent of global terrorism. The United States is, nonetheless, imprisoning foreign nationals and now requires frequent checks by immigration authorities. Additionally, the government is now detaining numerous immigrants without charges, without providing legal counsel and even without the ability to contact their families. The detainees are primarily Arab-American males; this racial profiling contradicts the 14th Amendment that guarantees “equal protection under the law.”

Supporters of the Patriot Act often defend it on the premise that the courts will not provide search warrants when the suspicion seems frivolous. This argument is hardly applicable because the Patriot Act permits the federal judiciary to issue warrants without substantial evidence. A grand jury does not need to intervene and a single judge (likely appointed by the Bush administration) can make the decision by herself or himself.

Finally, the actual implementation of the Patriot Act will merely suffocate the federal bureaucracy with information. Considering that intelligence wholly overlooked key indicators prior to Sept. 11, 2001, how can one not feel that all agencies will completely drown in the exponentially larger amounts of information they receive under the act? There is no conceivable way that any agency could wade through all the “threats” and “warnings” that appear in completely innocent places.

The Patriot Act is an embarrassment to the world’s most powerful democracy. Turning the United States of America into the Police State of America accomplishes nothing beyond alienating its own citizens and the people of other countries. For a nation founded on ideas of liberty and freedom, to completely ignore 250 years of tradition is appalling. Political leaders must repeal the Patriot Act to preserve the highest form of representative democracy the world has ever known.

Brett Clements is a freshman in the College. He is a publicity assistant for Georgetown College Democrats.

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