Patriot Act does not violate rights, state official says

Experts discussed human rights, civil liberties and public health as each related to terrorism.

Jessica Weaver

The controversial USA Patriot Act does not violate citizens’ rights as many of its opponents claim, said the Minnesota Department of Public Safety’s homeland security and emergency management deputy director, Jeff Luther, in a roundtable discussion Friday.

Luther said the role of government in the age of terrorism is not to violate citizens’ privacy. Rather, it is to promote protection of citizens’ rights, he said.

Experts discussed human rights, civil liberties and public health as each related to terrorism Friday morning at the Coffman Union Theater as part of a roundtable series sponsored by the School of Public Health.

The series is titled “Global Health Issues – Minnesota Perspectives” and aims to link research in the School of Public Health to the community.

Luther said the Patriot Act is misinterpreted. He said the government does not have time to monitor each citizen’s actions.

Instead, the Patriot Act is designed to access information when there is reasonable suspicion to do so, Luther said.

Debra Olson, associate dean for public health practice education at the School of Public Health and director of the University’s Center for Public Health Preparedness, said the discussions provide an opportunity to link the School of Public Health research with community work being done at the policy and practice level. Olson also coordinated the event.

Michael Osterholm, director of the University’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy, was the keynote speaker and moderated the panel discussion that followed the roundtable.

During the panel discussion, four experts introduced topics surrounding the issues of human rights, civil liberties and public health in the age of terrorism. The speakers discussed emerging public health topics.

Anne Barry, School of Public Health senior fellow and assistant commissioner of the Minnesota Department of Finance, said there is constant tension between maintaining privacy and, at the same time, promoting public health.

Barry said in cases such as AIDS quarantining, promoting public health violates citizens’ rights and such situations’ ethical guidelines.

Jennifer Prestholdt, deputy director of Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights, discussed concerns with citizens’ and non-citizens’ rights in public health issues.

Though the School of Public Health has had roundtable discussions before, this is the first year the discussions will be a part of an ongoing series.

Three more roundtable discussions will be held throughout the academic year. They are funded by the School of Public Health, though Friday’s lecture was co-sponsored by the Center for Public Health Preparedness.