The United States Patriot Act: Not an Act of Patriotism

Introduction

The conflict between freedom and necessity has always been a subject of heated philosophical and sociological debate. It seems that the question, whether it is permissible to abridge personal freedom for the common good or the greater good, remains unsolved. Naturally, the basis of any society is the compliance with the rules, and in the majority of cases, it implies some restrictions. Certainly, we cannot deny that sometimes they are necessary, because without them any society would collapse into a state of total chaos. However, we should ask ourselves a question, who are the people setting the rules. At times, they can be morally corrupt.

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Restrictions for the “greater good”

It goes without saying that some restrictions can be useful, especially if they help to avert crimes, for example, cameras in spotlights to catch speeders. Certainly, sometimes it is necessity to set curfew for teenagers for their own good. The indispensable condition is that we keep the sense of proportion, which is the cornerstone of rational behavior.

Many politicians often say that the restrictions are imposed for the “greater good”. This slogan has always been the best excuse for tyrants or dictators. First, it is impossible to define the so-called “greater good”, because it is a highly subjective notion. How can we define the notion of a greater good?

The “notorious” Patriot Act

The “notorious” Patriot Act that was signed in law by the President George Bush in 2001 drew a wide resonance in the American society, because it authorized the government to tighten the supervision over the American citizens. In fact, it practically turned the United States into the “supervision society”, which was minutely described in Orwells novel “1984”. According to George Bush, such measures could be justified in the light of constant “terrorism threat”. Such Machiavellian approach has always been a typical feature of any totalitarian society, where the state is entitled to regulate practically every aspect of peoples life (Armstrong, 12). Perhaps, it is prudent analyze the Patriot Act in order to substantiate our statement.

First, it is worth mentioning that according to the Justice Department, the PATRIOT Act gives support to and encourages enhanced sharing of information among various law enforcement agencies at the local, state and federal levels. In addition, this law assists law enforcement in their efforts to “connect the dots” from a wider scope of agencies when assembling evidence so as to “develop a complete picture” regarding possible threats from terrorists (Ward, 2002). The question arises, what is classified as the “possible threat from terrorists”. Besides, it is not clear, who are the “prime suspects” of the goverment or what is the main cause for suspicion. The PATRIOT Act gives law enforcement more latitude when attempting to intercept transmissions of ‘suspected terrorist’s’ discussions via electronic surveillance. Agents of the government can now secretly tap into any citizen’s phone calls or internet communications including all visited websites. Additionally, the Act increases border security funding and allows the Attorney General to disburse monetary rewards to those individuals and entities such as municipalities that have enjoined the fight against terrorism. It is possible to say that this act of legislation creates panic among the population, because people are becoming obsessed with the threat of terrorism. Such social phenomenon as “witch-hunt” has never produced positive results. Moreover, it should be mentioned that the Patriot Act provides financial support for the training of first responders such as firefighters. Finally, the PATRIOT Act permits government agency’s power to delay notification of search warrants, “which (is) a long-existing crime-fighting tool upheld by courts nationwide for decades in organized crime, drug cases and child pornography” (US Department of Justice, 2005). We may observe a very interesting paradox; America has always waged a struggle against totalitarian regimes and now it is gradually becoming very similar to them.

Bush and Liberal Opinion

According to President Bush, “The Patriot Act defends our liberty. The Patriot Act makes it able for those of us in positions of responsibility to defend the liberty of the American people. It’s essential law”. Naturally, this statement is worth discussion. How can the government abridge and protect liberties at the same time? It should be taken into account that once such controversial statement was made by Adolf Hitler, who also suggested tightening of the governments control over the countys citizens (Pyne, 44). Paul Rosenzweig, a senior legal research fellow at Heritage is convinced that Ronald Reagan, the champion of modern-day conservatism, would support the PATRIOT Act. “I’ll put it this way, Ronald Reagan would be for the Patriot Act. And I know that because his former attorney general, Ed Meese, is for the Patriot Act” (Lakely, 2005). Thus we can see that there supports of this Patriot Act. Some people believe that it is of no danger to civil rights. According to conservatives such as Rosenzweig, the Patriot Act poses no threat to civil liberties because it “has all the checks and balances on police authority that has been around for years” (Lakely, 2005). It is quite possible to make an objection to this statement; in fact it just takes off these checks, because the policy is n longer obliged to give an account of its actions especially if we are speaking about the so-called “terrorism threats”.

It stands to reason, that liberals do not hold a similar innocuous opinion of the PATRIOT Act. They believe it represses freedoms for the sake of security. Essentially, classical liberalism is a deeply held conviction in the concept of personal liberty. They hold closely to the words in the Declaration of Independence that refer to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness being inalienable rights. In the time of the country’s founding and today as well, the majority of people think that their individual rights emanate from government decree, that the rights they enjoy are contingent upon what the government decides to allow. But liberals follow the philosophy of John Locke, a Britain who lived at the time of the American Revolution. He argued that it quite the opposite. Citizens have natural rights that the government cannot bestow or take away. The people create the government and can make a new one if the situation warrants. Constitution never bluntly states the right to privacy it suggests privacy through the Bill of Rights, embedded in the Fourth Amendment which guarantees government agencies no interference with personal effects of the people or unreasonable search and seizures. (Goodman, 2005) Section 203 of the PATRIOT Act allows law enforcement officers to give CIA with no court order information received through a wiretap or internet tap. Agents of the Government can now secretly tap into any citizen’s phone calls or internet communications including all visited web sites. If directed by the Justice Department, police officers can enter people’s homes without benefit of a warrant and even seize their belongings and not ever have to inform the homeowner of the search. Individuals, as well as religious and political organizations, can legally be spied on by law enforcement agencies whether or not those agencies can produce any evidence a crime has or is planning to be committed. Section 215 allows for library records to be scrutinized by more efficient means by government officials. Section 213 of the PATRIOT Act allows the FBI’s to obtain a warrant and search residence without notifying occupants, if it is an issue of ‘national security.’ No longer does law enforcement officials need to show ‘probable cause’ to obtain a search warrant, ‘probable suspicion’ is enough. Judges can authorize these investigations if they believe that it might prevent another terrorist attack. The question arises, who will supervise the supervisors?

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A survey of experts

Wadsworth Publishing conducted a survey of experts in the field of criminal justice. According to its findings, 95 percent believed the PATRIOT Act was passed without the thoughtful consideration of the impact this legislation had on public policy. Most, 74 percent, responded that the PATRIOT Act violated the rights of individuals and a large percentage of these felt that laws already on the books, if implemented, could adequately and equally protect the country from terrorism (Thompson Wadsworth, 2003). One can surmise from these findings that those experts surveyed supported the government’s endeavor to protect the nation from future terrorist attacks but also felt that the Act is a threat to the nation’s freedoms. Many of the provisions it contains are inconsistent with the Constitution specifically the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth Eighth and 13th Amendments, the violation if the First Amendment arguably the most egregious.

Conclusion

Though congressmen did not fully realize what they were passing in the rush to give the appearance of action in the wake of 9/11, they have had ample opportunity to examine it since that time. These legislators and those in the Bush Administration which initially proposed the Act certainly must realize that, though they justify it in the name of national security, the Act impedes the freedoms that many have sacrificed their lives to protect. Ironically, the Congress and President, rather than tempering the deviating portions of the Act, promoted the legislation as a united declaration of PATRIOTism. It was a deplorable sales technique that is rightly vilified by conservative and liberal Americans alike. However, many citizens have been scared by the threat of terrorism to the point that they are willing to give up liberty for security, a sad testament to the legacy of the founding fathers.

Works Cited

Allen, Mike. “Congress urged: Pass Patriot Act.” The Washington Post. (2004). Web.

Lakely, James G. “Conservatives, Liberals Align Against Patriot Act.” The Washington Times. (2005). Web.

Goodman, John C. “What is Classical Liberalism?” National Center for Policy Analysis. (2005). Web.

John A. Armstrong, “The Politics of Totalitarianism” New York: Random House, 1961

Stanley G. Payne, A History of Fascism, Routledge, 1996. Thompson Wadsworth. “Thompson Wadsworth Criminal Justice Survey.” Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company. (2003).

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US Department of Justice. “Waging the war on terror.” (2005). Web.

Ward, Elaine N. “USA PATRIOT Act of 2001.” The University of Texas at Austin. (2002). Web.

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