Of the many sequels being offered to the public this summer, only one seems to have all the civil libertarian critics in agreement. The USA Patriot Act: “Part Deux” is being previewed in the halls of Congress as the next necessary step in the country’s war against terrorism.
Executive Producer (read Attorney General) John Ashcroft went to Capitol Hill last week to expand the current Patriot Act, which was hastily passed by Congress in the wake of the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. The legislation gave federal law enforcement agencies unprecedented leeway in detaining suspects and gathering information on American citizens without the usual balances and supervision from the courts.
While America’s concentrated efforts in the war on terrorism have yielded some worthy arrests (and hopefully convictions) of alleged terrorists, the long lasting effects on our freedom is still uncertain.
The original Patriot Act was passed in the emotional days following the terrorist attacks. Many provisions were needed (such as information sharing between law enforcement agencies), but other aspects of the act went too far.
Ashcroft is requesting additions to the act to allow capital punishment for terrorist acts and to bar suspects from being released on bond. The attorney general will have to prove the need for these new provisions if he wants them to become law. The Congress, on the other hand, must take a stand and challenge the executive branch on the need for some of the existing provisions currently in the Patriot Act. For example, Ashcroft should prove how investigating the records of libraries and book stores will keep Americans safer.
Those supporting the Patriot Act say some personal freedoms must be sacrificed to insure the safety of all.
The main concern, however, is how future presidents and attorney generals will use the language in the Patriot Act. Today’s anti-terrorism law could be interpreted to curtail freedoms of the American people in future generations.
The act is scheduled to sunset in two years. This will undoubtedly be preceded by a request for its extension. If it is extended, Congress should take steps to weed out the provisions which permanently endanger the constitutional rights of Americans.