Patriot Act Violates Rights Protected by Constitution

MARIA KORNALIAN
El Vaquero Staff Writer

Ask yourself what your trust in the government is based on. Is it built upon a blind trust you have that the people we have elected will not abuse their power? Or is it centered on something tangible, such as the Constitution? What if everything you thought should never happen, regardless of the source of your faith, was exactly what the powers that be now have every legal right to do? Introducing, the Patriot Act.

Call me cynical, but I am not one to just trust that the Bush administration is a group of such upstanding human beings that they simply are not capable of the misuse of governmental power.

If I have any faith that my government will maintain justice in its execution of order, it is chiefly based on the words etched into our Constitution, the Bill of Rights and the basic principles of federalism and checks and balances.

All of that is essentially meaningless with the passage of our so-called “Patriot Act.” The act, passed shortly after the Sept. 11 attacks in 2001, is a disgrace to the democratic system and civil liberties on which this country is built.

Before one considers the atrocious rights the act gives the government, let us examine the conditions of its original passing in Congress. In order for any bill introduced in either chambers of Congress to become a law, it must undergo certain standard procedures.

Many of these key procedures, such as inter-agency review and the normal committee hearing process through voting, were suspended when the Patriot Act was passed in October 2001. This leads us to wonder if Congress wholly comprehended the act when it so hastily passed it only weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks. Or did our emotional reactions to the tragedy compel us to rush through an extremely dangerous act? An act we should have studied much more carefully.

The Patriot Act not only violates our fourth amendment rights, but also our right to privacy as explicitly granted in the constitution.

Just to name a few, here is what the act permits the government to do:
The FBI and CIA can go from phone to phone, computer to computer wiretapping all information. Not only that, but they do not have to show that any of the information is being used by a suspect or target of an order. Any wiretap can be served on any one person or unit in the country, even if the suspect is not mentioned anywhere in the order.

Furthermore, nobody is required to show any relevance of any of the data collected.

Also, Internet service providers can give the government information about your online usage without even a court order. And with a simple subpoena (no court review required), they can receive information including records of session time and durations, Internet provider addresses, and any means or sources of payments such as credit card or bank account numbers. They can also request lists of e-mails sent and received, Web sites visited and calls made to and from your phone line.

Oh, but it gets better. The Attorney General can also detain or deport any non-citizen with little or absolutely no judicial review, jeopardizing checks and balances. He can certify that he has “reasonable grounds to believe” that the person endangers national security and with the bat of an eye, they are out of the country.

But wait, there’s more! The Attorney General can eavesdrop on any attorney-client conversation, clearly breaking attorney-client privilege. The list of horrors goes on and on.

Since many of the provisions in the act will sunset on Dec. 31, 2005, Congress will not be able to review most of the acts made in exercise of the powers granted in this act because it will not know of any.

The president has no obligation to report any of his actions to Congress. This means Congress will never even know about orders made to eavesdrop on anybody.

If Congress doesn’t know what is being done, how can it be expected to evaluate how such power is being used in order to make a sound decision about whether or not these powers should continue or sunset without renewal?

The Patriot Act was originally developed to help ward off terrorism in the country. But if we cannot preserve our own civil liberties, something so fundamental to our country, what are we really fighting terrorists to keep? If we cannot maintain what we are truly trying to defend, haven’t the terrorists already won?

Everywhere, patriots declare the treasures of this nation and our home as the “land of the free.” Yet, we can’t maintain that model of liberty and democracy, even when we are faced with the threat of terrorism.

With the Patriot Act, al-Qaeda has somehow been able to unravel a pledge over 200 years old, which promises and guarantees the rights of due process.

If this is not an unashamed, blatant infringement upon civil liberties, what is? And if these liberties can be so easily compromised, what are we fighting these terrorists for?

The Patriot Act not only infringes upon each individual’s civil liberties, but it also destroys the existence of checks and balances, a principle that is crucial to our system of government. The president needs not report any of his actions, or of the executive branch, to either chamber of congress, and for the most part does not need the approval of the judicial system to carry out these actions.

Checks and balances were designed to ensure that no one branch of government had more power to prevent any misuse of it. How will this threat now be safeguarded?

I leave you with one thought: Is it 2004 or 1984 we are nearing?