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The USA PATRIOT Act: A matter of too much security?

Taking a closer look at the USA PATRIOT Act, experts weigh on the issues surrounding this legislation. Will this act actually lead to a more secure world? Or is it just another way to for the government to gain more snooping rights? What's at stake for the individual?

The USA PATRIOT Act was passed almost two years ago in response to the September 11 attacks. Its basic purpose was to give federal law enforcement agencies greater and speedier access to communications (like e-mails and phone conversations) with the intention of stopping "terrorist" activities dead in their tracks. This legislation passed without much debate or any amendments, and has become the cornerstone our domestic anti-terrorism policy. Initially, any debate over the PATRIOT Act's infringement on civil liberties or questions about the increased power to the federal law enforcement agencies was publicly dismissed or basically ignored.

Without any great public outcry against this legislation, the government moved forward with its efforts and added the Cyber Security Enhancement Act at the end of 2002 as part of the creation of the Department of Homeland Security. Now there's talk of trying to pass the PATRIOT Act II -- much to the dismay and outrage of civil liberty and privacy groups who opposed the first PATRIOT Act.

But, why be so concerned with two-year old legislation or any additions to it in the first place? Well, for one we've had more time to think it through and see first hand how this legislation has impacted the "war against terrorism." Are U.S. citizens safer and more secure because of the PATRIOT Act? Or are we at greater risk for being falsely accused and imprisoned for "terrorist" activities? How does this kind of legislation contribute to a culture of fear? Is the PATRIOT Act an invasion of privacy or a necessary law enforcement tool? Who does this legislation really benefit?

To answer some of these questions, experts weigh in and give their opinions about the impact of the PATRIOT Act in post-September 11 America.

Contemplating the PATRIOT Act
by Ed Tittel

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!

Read the rest of Ed's response

The USA PATRIOT Act: Increasing the size of government
by Kevin Beaver

Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism -- a.k.a. the USA PATRIOT Act -- is a huge program with a catchy little title that does more to increase the size of government than it does to fight terrorism. It was easy to pass -- everyone was emotional over the unfortunate September 11 terrorist attacks. It was developed behind closed doors between Congress and the Bush Administration, and there was initially no debate or amendments allowed. It just passed -- unfortunately, using terrorism as an excuse to attack our individuality and personal freedoms. It's anything but patriotic.

Read the rest of Kevin's response

Cooperating with law enforcement for U.S. security
by Sondra Schneider

Every company has a basic premise -- protect the family jewels from theft, modification or destruction. The homeowner decides how to protect the family jewels, with security alarm systems, safes dogs, etc. He decides who should enter the domain by providing a key or permission. Networks are similar in that we have now have a DMZ in front of networks that hold personal information just like an external mail box.

Read the rest of Sondra's response

Invasion of the PATRIOT Act
by Jonathan Callas

Are the intercept provisions of the Cyber Security Enhancement Act and the surveillance provisions of the PATRIOT Act clear violations of privacy? Why, yes, they are. No question about it.

Let's put some things in perspective. Western society is under threat from terrorists. There's no question about that, either.

The real issue is how to address that threat. There are two properties we want such a solution to have. We want it to be effective, and we want it to preserve our society.

Read the rest of Jonathan's response

When there's too much security
by Ed Yakabovicz

Suppose one day you give an acquaintance a ride home from their work place, which is a nice corporate company with a large lot and overall nice facilities. The pickup area is not a fire lane, nor does it have any signs that designate it as a no drop-off or no-standing zone, but you've noticed in the past that the onsite security only allows about three minutes to wait in this area before they ask you to move to another location. On any given day you stop your vehicle in this area to pickup your acquaintance, but instead of the typical three minutes, the security guard drives up no sooner than 10 seconds after you park. You tell the guard you are picking up an acquaintance who you know is only a few seconds away, because you just got off the mobile phone with them. But, the guard is agitated and acts unprofessional with a foul temper and harsh words. You are surprised and answer you will only be a minute, but the guard is only getting more angry by the second. You ask for a supervisor, only to be rebuffed without a word in edge-wise. As you drive away, the guard is writing down your vehicle tag number and cursing at you.

Read the rest of Ed's response

The Patriot Act and Carnivore: Reasons for concern?
by Stephen Mencik

In response to the tragic events of Sept. 11th, Congress recently passed the Patriot Act. The intent of this Act is to make it easier for law enforcement to track down and prosecute terrorists, hopefully before something happens. One of the provisions of the act expands the FBI's wiretap powers. This includes the ability to intercept Internet communications using its controversial Carnivore (now known as DCS1000) tool. Is this something that the average American should be concerned about? What follows is a brief summary of the FBI's wiretap authority, how that relates to Internet communications and how Carnivore works. You can then decide for yourself if you are concerned about Carnivore or the FBI's new authority under the Patriot Act.

Read the rest of Stephen's response

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