The USA Patriot Act: They told you so

Shortly after Sept. 11, 2001, Congress passed the USA Patriot Act. Among other things, the act gave the Justice Department unprecedented discretion to eavesdrop on people’s lives without judicial approval. Civil liberty supporters have criticized the Patriot Act all along – now their predictions are coming to fruition.

The Treasury Department’s figures prove that Attorney General John Ashcroft’s Justice Department is abusing the Patriot Act’s invasion of privacy powers. Two-thirds of financial records authorities obtained under the Patriot Act this year were for investigations with no terrorism connection. The Patriot Act itself was unacceptable, and its use in nonterrorism investigations proves it.

One section of the act forces judges to issue blank warrants, which lack location or jurisdiction limitations, whenever a U.S. attorney says it is for “an ongoing criminal investigation.” This, like much of the Patriot Act, applies to investigations of U.S. citizens, meaning officials need no independent approval to peek into virtually all aspects of our lives. Ashcroft gave two justifications in requesting such discretion: The country needed it, and federal investigators would not abuse it.

The country faces an uncertain future, and the government should do everything it can to prevent terrorism while respecting the Bill of Rights.

The Fourth Amendment guarantees people to be free from unreasonable search and seizure; authorities need a warrant to invade privacy and courts must require probable cause to grant those warrants. The framers of the Constitution felt unbridled law enforcement discretion produced too many of such intrusions, outweighing crime prevention benefits.

The Patriot Act is un-American and should go the way of past crisis-motivated measures such as the Sedition Act, the suspension of habeas corpus writs during the Civil War, the prohibition on war criticism in World War I, the internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II and McCarthyism, which many consider the darkest moments of this great justice system.