During times of national crisis the government is entrusted with the authority to implement any and all means necessary to secure the safety of the people. But at what point do the people begin to question the actions of government?
On October 26, 2001, both the U.S. House of Representatives and the Senate overwhelmingly passed the USA Patriot Act — 343 pages of amendments and additions to previous laws designed to eliminate potential barriers in fighting terrorism.
According to the Department of Justice Web site, the Patriot Act “improves our counterterrorism efforts in several significant ways.” It allows authorities to use tools already in use against organized crime and drug trafficking to investigate terrorist activities, facilitates information sharing among government agencies and updates existing law to reflect new technology and technological threats. In addition, the act imposes harsher penalties for those convicted of committing terrorist crimes.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) asserts that the Patriot Act tramples on the civil liberties of American citizens in several ways. The organization says the act violates the Fourth Amendment, which requires government to show probable cause before obtaining a search warrant. Second, the act violates the First Amendment by imposing a gag order on public employees required to provide government with their clients’ personal information. The act also violates the First Amendment by effectively authorizing the FBI to investigate American citizens for, in part, exercising their freedom of speech. And, it eliminates the requirement for government to provide notice to individuals whose privacy has been compromised by a government investigation.
The act does intrude on an individual’s right to privacy, but only in cases where the government suspects the individual is involved in terrorist-related activity. If the government is suspicious of an individual’s activities, should it not have the ability to investigate that individual? Theoretically, law-abiding citizens will never have to worry about their right to privacy being violated because their activities will never be suspicious.
On the other hand, the Patriot Act does have the potential to trample on citizens’ constitutional rights. The act relies on trusting investigators not to intrude upon these rights. Therefore, a strong argument can be made against the act, because, although government officials may not be currently abusing the act, the potential for abuse exists.
Thus the proverbial question once again arises. Should the people entrust the government with the authority granted by the USA Patriot Act in the name of national security, or should the people revolt against the Patriot Act for fear of potential government abuse? The fate of our national security may very well rest upon the answer.