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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


    Opportunity for change expires

    Janne Peronacolumnist
    Janne Perona

    Police searching your house without a warrant in a practice known as the “”sneak and peak.”” Unknown wiretapping of your home telephone. Citizens held for years without charges. After Sept. 11, 2001, these situations gave new meaning to Benjamin Franklin’s old adage, “”Those who sacrifice freedom for security deserve neither.””

    The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11 proved that the national security action plans of the United States were inadequate. Or at least, that is what the president told us. He also told us that Congress needed to do something about it.

    And it did. In the days and weeks after Sept. 11, our elected representatives on Capitol Hill drafted the USA Patriot Act, designed to give the president and other members of the executive branch sweeping new powers in order to combat terrorism.

    The Patriot Act established the Department of Homeland Security, gave increased surveillance powers to the CIA and FBI, and vastly enhanced security along the northern border with Canada. A so-called “”sunset”” provision was also included in the act, meaning that some of its provisions would automatically expire after a given time unless Congress expressly renewed them.

    This retaliatory legislation was hurriedly put together at the behest of the attorney general. In the Senate, only Sen. Russ Feingold (D-Wis.) dissented.

    It seems that Congress did not learn from past mistakes and is willing to allow history to repeat itself.

    In the House, after minor changes, it passed 357 to 66. The act was signed into law by President Bush on Oct. 26, 2001.

    Once the dust had settled, people could step back and see just what the Patriot Act was capable of doing. The very senators who signed on the bill were left scratching their heads several months later, questioning the legality of their own law.

    In his novel “”USA Patriot Act: The Good, the Bad, and the Sunset,”” former White House Chief of Staff John Podesta wrote, “”Many aspects of the bill increase the opportunity for law enforcement and the intelligence community to return to an era where they monitored and sometimes harassed individuals who were merely exercising their First Amendment rights. Nothing that occurred on Sept. 11 mandates that we return to such an era.””

    Fast-forward to Dec. 31, 2005. Congress was presented with the opportunity to rectify its past mistakes, as the sunset provision set in. Sixteen provisions of the Patriot Act were set to expire at the end of the year, but because of a nearly partisan deadlock, a renewal vote was not possible. The act’s expiration was extended until Feb. 3 and then again until March 10 of this year as Republicans and White House officials worked to revise the law to the point of compromise.

    On March 2, the Senate voted 89-10 to renew the USA Patriot Act, given new provisions that at points both increased and decreased federal law enforcement powers. It seems that Congress did not learn from its past mistakes and is willing to allow history to repeat itself.

    The revisions made to the Patriot Act were nothing more than a coy attempt to placate the public. By adding a bit of blush and concealer, as it were, the Senate seems to hope to fool the public into thinking that all of the malice of the Patriot Act has been removed.

    But the public should not be fooled. Just as before, the Patriot Act has far-reaching provisions that should scare anyone. The very senators who were elected to uphold American ideals and represent the people back home are taking away our rights in the name of national security.

    And in some cases, that is a good thing. There are points in time where a few rights must be sacrificed for the good of the whole community. John Locke’s social contract was based on that exact idea.

    And maybe America needed that to happen in the months after Sept. 11. If we were honest with ourselves, we would agree that the American people did need to give the federal government a few more powers and sacrifice a few privacies in order to catch those responsible for killing thousands of innocent people.

    For example, airport security was tightened after Sept. 11, and that is an acceptable sacrifice. Searches of carry-on and checked baggage were more invasive, and “”random searches”” were conducted frequently. The trade-off of a few hours for safety in the air is something people find fair. But people are only willing to make these sacrifices for so long – after that, frustration begins to set in.

    Looking back, that didn’t work. People gave up rights, and now, more than four years later, the American government has nothing more than several people detained as “”enemy combatants”” to show for it. The broad powers we gave the president and the Department of Homeland Security – and the rights we sacrificed – did nothing.

    At this point, Americans should not be so willing to sacrifice their freedoms in the name of “”national security,”” lest we soon return to an era in which we have neither.

    Janne Perona is a criminal justice administration sophomore. She can be reached at

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