Contemplating the PATRIOT Act

SearchSecurity.com expert Ed Tittel contemplates the PATRIOT Act and what it means for civil liberties.

Below you will find SearchSecurity.com expert Ed Tittel's response to questions about how the PATRIOT Act affects individual security and civil liberties. This article is one of a group of SearchSecurity.com expert answers to questions on this legislation.

I've been shying away from dealing with the PATRIOT Act, because it's both explosive and disturbing. On the one hand, I want to live in a safe, comfortable society; on the other, I'm extremely uncomfortable with the rights and privileges that the U.S. government and its various arms and agencies have arrogated to themselves with this act of legislation. I'm afraid that we've boiled the bathwater to make it safe for the baby, but we forgot to take the baby out first!

I am personally acquainted with the Pentagon military intelligence groups that conducted surveillance on various notable civil rights activists in the late 60s, so I'm personally and painfully aware of what kinds of excesses can be perpetrated in the name of going after "...all enemies, foreign and domestic." And again, like the folks at the EFF, I'm concerned that the bill was rushed through Congress in the name of "doing something about terrorism" without really stopping to consider the effects on the civil liberties and ordinary behavior of everyday, law-abiding citizens or without being constructed with a careful set of checks and balances to prevent excessive or outrageous behavior in the name of legal anti-terrorist activity.

The pendulum of legislation swings from conservative to liberal poles, then back again, as the years pass. To me, I can only hope the PATRIOT Act represents the high point for conservative efforts to control privacy, information and giving the advantage to the side of the prosecution. Although my intentions are usually good and my purposes benign, I can't say I want the government watching over my shoulder all the time, any more than other people like me would. I'm also deeply concerned that my rights to protest against things in which I don't believe, and sometimes downright abhor, could be compromised or denied by some of the provisions of the bill, especially in its new and broad definitions of terrorism, from the impact of violence surrounding protest (whether intentional or accidental), and widened definitions of what it means to "harbor" or provide "material support" to those accused of terrorist activity.

The thing is, only time will tell if law enforcement and intelligence agencies will respect traditional civil liberties and privacy as defined before the PATRIOT Act was passed, or if they will look for every opportunity to sway the courts in favor of a more forceful interpretation of the law. In the final analysis, it's the use to which the law will be put that will determine whether or not it needs to be altered when the pendulum takes its inevitable swing in the other direction. To that end, I'm hopeful that careful implementation will prevail, and that we won't be reading about wretched excesses perpetrated by government in the name of controlling terrorism as the next round of "revisionist history" is written in the second half of this century.


Read the other SearchSecurity.com expert responses:
  • Kevin Beaver: The USA PATRIOT Act: Increasing the size of government
  • Sondra Schneider: Cooperating with law enforcement for U.S. security
  • Jonathan Callas: Invasion of the PATRIOT Act
  • Ed Yakabovicz: When there's too much security
  • Stephen Mencik: The Patriot Act and Carnivore: Reasons for concern?
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