The problem IS the PATRIOT act

Mar 13 2007 Published by under Politics

It's all over the news. The FBI has violated the PATRIOT act numerous times by using "national security letters" where it wasn't legitimate to do so. Naughty FBI. Clean your house.

The problem is, we need our House to clean up by repealing the PATRIOT act altogether. That act was shoved through congress at a time when few representatives were willing to risk not being seen Doing Something. We were cowed, we were afraid, we were angry, we were indignant, and we pushed this sweeping act through into law without the discussion, consideration, and public awareness that anything anywhere close to this needs in a nominally democratic society like ours. But we didn't want thoughtfulness; we, the citizens, as a whole, wanted shepherds to protect us from the scary terrorists. Many of the representatives who voted in favor of that act didn't even really know what was in it, and yet we did it. So much for freedom not being deterred by terrorism.

Think about it: there is a law that says the following. If law enforcement asks you for some private information (library records, medical records, whatever) with a "national security letter," it is illegal for you to tell anybody that you have been asked for this. You suspect that perhaps the law is being misused here. What are you to to? Well, you could ask a lawyer about it. What if it turns out that it was a legal use of a national security letters? You are now guilty of violating an anti-terrorism act. The safe thing to do is to just cow to whatever law enforcement says, because you are risking a world of trouble by questioning the legitimacy.

When we eliminate any possibility of checks and balances from some ostensibly limited sphere of behavior, we should not be surprised when the edge of the sphere is pushed and the power is abused. (All that should suprise us is that we actually manage to find out about it.) This is a law that so many argue is "needed" to fight terrorism. If that's the case, then I would argue that the terrorists have won; if we need that law, then it is impossible for a democratic society to exist in the face of terrorism. If, on the other hand, we want to find a way to defend ourselves from terrorism while maintaining a free and open society, we need to get rid of that law right now.

I think the entire PATRIOT act should be repealed, hook, line, and sinker. We should admit that it was a rushed and ill-considered mistake to push something like that through while we were still reeling from the impact of the 9/11 attacks. We can then go back and debate the parts of that law that might have some value-- debate, discuss, share with the public, and vote on, the way a democratic society is supposed to.

4 responses so far

  • blf says:

    Surely it's possible to find a "Rosa Parks"--i.e., someone who is willing to risk the consequences if the law is upheld--and challenge the law (presumably with the help of the ACLU and other such worthies)?

  • terrible tim says:

    Il Duce would be proud know that his experiment lives on .

  • SLC says:

    Re terrible time
    Except that President Bush can't even make the trains run on time (re. Katrina).

  • David Harmon says:

    While I certainly agree with the sentiments, I also have a cynical feeling that we haven't hit bottom yet....