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This is a first draft of a paper for my Writing Arguments class. If anyone has some feedback or rivals I'd appreciate it.
The Patriot Act: Everything for Nothing?
There couldn't have been a worse time to pass landmark legislation. The act was introduced in Congress during a time of hysteria, less than a week after the 9/11 attacks. Designed to protect Americans, and prevent terror, the act still remains one of the greatest threats to civil liberties since the Sedition Act. Over a year later, much of the initial terror is over. Life, for most, has returned to normal, yet America is left with a slew of new laws that reflect the insane paranoia that temporarily gripped our nation. These new laws are joined under the Patriot Act, an act that, for the good of the nation, should be removed.
The changes the Patriot Act has made are vast, far too numerous to be explained in any simple synopsis. At its core, through the addition of new laws and the modification of old laws, the act greatly increases the government's domestic spying powers. Phones can now be tapped, and homes searched, all without requiring any type of warrant, or evidence that a crime had been committed. The act also gives the federal government similar powers on the electronic frontier, allowing them the ability to monitor emails and internet activity, including input into search engines.
The primary reason the Patriot Act exists is the popular belief that our intelligence agencies failed by being unable to warn us, or prevent the 911 attacks. Therefore, the question that must first be asked is if the act actually fixes the problems that prevented the FBI and CIA from preventing 9/11 in the first place. If it does not, then the costs of the act might not be worth bearing. Was our government restricted by search and seizure laws? Recent evidence seems to point in the other direction, reporting that lower-ranking agents had vital information that was lost in the chain of command. In the end, it seemed to be more a problem of the agency fitting the pieces together, not whether it was getting access to them. While our intelligence agencies clearly require a drastic overhaul, simply throwing more money and power at an incompetent organization certainly isn't going to help.
It is important to remember our lawmakers were elected before 9/11, based on issues as far away from homeland security as can be. To assume that these lawmakers are accurately representing the wishes of those they represent would be ignoring this reality. In fact, nearly every poll on the subject has come out against the patriot act. A poll by the associated press revealed that 63% were worried that the patriot act would restrict individual freedom. A poll on CNN tallied 60% of those who participated as being against the act. As we distance ourselves further and further from 9/11, the number of people against the Patriot Act continues to increase. A 2-part survey done by Zogby International revealed that between November 2001 and August 2002, the number of Americans that approve of the government monitoring phone lines has declined to 24%, a 14% drop. The number of Americans who approve of the government reading your mail has declined by almost half; down to 35% from 62%. While the Patriot Act might once have been justifiable to the American people, it is not now, in the eyes of most, something that the country needs. Although an unpopular law is not necessarily an unjust law, there is plenty of evidence that suggests the Patriot Act is both. The 4th Amendment, looks like it was crafted specifically to prevent acts such as the Patriot act from ever being passed.
"The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."
The new powers given to the government, effectively nullify the concept of probable cause, allowing any person's house to be searched with little to no evidence. As long as the act stands, the 4th Amendment is no longer relevant. It should also be noted that the person the government spies on may not be an actual target of an investigation. All it takes is the government convincing the court that spying on you may lead to 'relevant information'; in a trial. Here's a hypothetical example: Let us say a friend of yours is working on a school project on terrorism, specifically potential targets that might need more protection from the US. He scans the internet on the subject, looking up nuclear power plants, dams, and government buildings on the internet, to see if appropriate safety measures have been taken. Let's also say that at one point, he chatted with you over Instant Messenger, asking for help on his project. The government has been monitoring all this, tipped off by a program that detects certain keywords in internet search engines. It has decided that your friend may be a potential threat that it needs to investigate. The government, without needing a search warrant, decides to search your friend's house when he is not home. A search of his computer reveals the IM conversation you shared, highlighting you as a potential accomplice. You come home one day to find your house a mess, the contents of every box, shelf and closet on the floor and certain computer disks of yours are nowhere to be found. This situation is entirely possible based upon the new powers granted to the government.
"But why should we worry if we aren't guilty?"
"Why should you care"; the argument goes, "unless you're a terrorist?" A police state is not defined by laws or wrongful accusations, but a lack of privacy and the complete right for the government to interfere with every aspect of our lives. This applies to everyone, even those who are innocent. The ability for the government to skip procedure and go directly to investigations, searches and seizures also opens the door to waves of abuse. It was the 4th Amendment that kept Americans from being unfairly targeted by the government, and although it has not happened recently(for reasons explained below) the possibility of it happening in the future is very real. Despite the act being targeted toward terrorists, there is no definitive guarantee that the act can only be used to that end. In fact, the act extends the definition of terrorism to include acts that are intended "to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion." paving the way for the mislabeling of political activists as terrorists.
With no legal barrier to stop them, it falls upon the government to utilize the laws in an appropriate manner. If we could simply rely on the good graces of the government, then we wouldn't have any need for checks and balances. In fact, recent evidence suggests that the government is already misusing some of its new powers. A court created to oversee the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act recently refused to let the Federal government conduct a number of domestic wiretaps. The reason? The government supplied the agency with erroneous information 75 times, in an attempt to gain approval for search warrants and wiretaps.
But perhaps, the greatest case against the Patriot Act is that, in many ways, it has already been proven a failure. Many of the powers given to the government, especially those relating to the tapping of phones, are not new. In fact, the Patriot act restores powers the FBI abused during the 50s and 60. These powers were taken away from the FBI after the its Cointelpro program was discovered by the public. Cointelpro was an attempt to spy on the general public with the intent to undermine various political movements, specifically, socialist, anti-war and civil rights groups. In all, nearly half a million Americans were spied upon. When the program's secrets were revealed in 1970, Public outrage was so great, that the agency was forced to forfeit much of its power. With a history of abusing its authority, and evidence that it is already done the same today, do we really wish to keep granting these sort of powers to the government?
Simply put, the Patriot Act is NOT the answer. Forfeiting our rights for government protection, especially when that protection has already been misused. A true solution must be found, not one based on fear and ignorance. Only when America can step back, and weigh our values, can we truly judge what we should give up in the name of safety.
-------------------- "A conservative is a man with two perfectly good legs who, however, has never learned how to walk forward. ~FDR"
I don't see the parallel between the Alien and Sedition Act and the Patriot Act except that they both infringe of civil rights. However, I don't really see any specific commonalities in their measures. Perhaps you could add a paragraph and add some specifics in that area.
IMO the 4th Amendment was already dead, however. It's been a casualty in the WOD for a long time, no warrent necessary to detain people in traffic stops looking for drugs, outrageous conspiracy charges with no other proof enough to imprison you for years under RICO, etcetera.
In reply to: The changes the Patriot Act has made are vast, far too numerous to be explained in any simple synopsis.
I just don't care for that phrase. Perhaps it would be better to say that you'll only cover some of the most outrageous infringements on personal privacy and safety, but I don't like the way you phrased that it's too much for you to cover.
Just a suggestion but perhaps you could cover a bit on Jose Padilla and how he's been indefinitely detained without any constitutional protection.
-------------------- "If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do."-King Solomon
And there was war in heaven: Michael and his angels fought against the dragon; and the dragon fought and his angels,
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