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The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

The Student News Site of Texas A&M University - College Station

The Battalion

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Farewell from the graduating Battalion staff of 2024
The BattalionMay 4, 2024

Frightening proposition

 
 

For those Americans willing to relinquish more authority to the U.S. government, exchange individual freedom for security and cast aside all rights to personal privacy, sit back, relax and enjoy the ride, because that’s where this country may be heading. The Patriot Act is currently up for renewal.
The Patriot Act essentially strengthens the powers of U.S. intelligence agencies, and it actively does so in many ways, not all of which are bad.
For example, the act facilitates information-sharing between intelligence agencies, renders harboring of terrorists and affording them material support a criminal offense and permits nationwide execution of warrants in terrorist cases.
Unfortunately, these positive elements are overshadowed by the act’s many glaring sections that, if abused, have the potential to adversely affect U.S. citizens. Such elements, stated by Gerald Lefcourt in The New York Law Journal, include: secret searches without direct notification to the individual or delayed notice, the seizure of practically all personal documents, the examination of financial records without a court order, the allowance of authorities to obtain permission from a secret court to listen to individuals’ conversations providing information that will never be known to anyone, and enabling access to stored e-mail and other communication records, including stored voice messages.
Now, surely one must think, “What happened to probable cause when executing search warrents?” According to the Department of Justice, the Patriot Act lowered the standard for such intrusions, changing the requirement for executing search warrants in these cases from terrorism being the “sole purpose” to it being only a “significant purpose.” So what constitutes a significant purpose to suspect someone of terrorism? That’s a good question, and it’s a question the Patriot Act doesn’t adequately address. It simply provides a lengthy list, containing many gray areas, of what merits the classification of a terrorist act. Discretion is apparently left up to secret courts and intelligence agencies.
But everyone can breathe a sigh of relief, as the government would never attempt to use this act for any reason but preventing terrorism, right? Not exactly.
According to The Washington Times, the Department of Justice revealed that it obtained 113 secret search authorizations throughout the year following 9-11 compared to the 47 secret searches authorized in the 23 years before the attack. Even more disturbing, The New York Times reported that the Department of Justice conducted a study that found the act is regularly being used in non-terrorist related activities.
This information should send up a red flag to the American public. The act is said to specifically focus on terrorist-related activities, yet even the justice department claims the contrary.
If Americans lived under the watchful eye of an ideal government that would never abuse its power, renewing the act would not be problematic.
However, history has shown that governments cannot be afforded arbitrary power over citizens or the luxury of operating with impunity.Renewing the Patriot Act does not necessarily mean that the “Big Brother” society envisioned by Orwell will become a reality, but it’s a step in that direction. No one knows how this act will be executed in the future.
Some optimistic Americans may spout off, “If you have nothing to hide, the bill is harmless.” Such an outlook is naive and frightening. Today, the government is after terrorists, but tomorrow, who knows. The interpretation and execution of the act is always subject to change.
More importantly, even if the intentions of the act are good, no one can be sure of the people executing the law. Already, the Department of Justice has reported that the act has drifted away from its intended purpose. This will only get more frequent with time. How far will Americans allow the scope of the act to drift before curbing the tide?
Benjamin Franklin once said, “Those who give up liberty for the sake of security deserve neither liberty nor security.” Though times are different, the words of this venerated man still apply. Preventing future terrorist attacks should be our government’s number one priority, but the 9-11 tragedy should not beguile Americans into issuing the government a blank check with their civil liberties to, theoretically, prevent another attack.

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