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May 30, 2011

Who Protects Us from Government Under the “Patriot Act”?

Hours before it expired last week, the “Patriot Act” was renewed for four more years in the name of protecting us from terrorism. However, was this a good thing for our country?

John W. Whitehead, in his recent post entitled “Renewing the Patriot Act: Who Will Protect Us From Our Government?“, points out some very critical issues within the “Patriot Act” that put our American liberties seriously at risk. After reading his assessment, ask yourself who will protect us from an overreaching federal government empowered by this law — one that can now easily redefine citizen protest or even disagreement as terrorism!

The Patriot Act drove a stake through the heart of the Bill of Rights, violating at least six of the ten original amendments – the First, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, Seventh and Eighth Amendments – and possibly the Thirteenth and Fourteenth Amendments, as well. The Patriot Act also redefined terrorism so broadly that many non-terrorist political activities such as protest marches, demonstrations and civil disobedience were considered potential terrorist acts, thereby rendering anyone desiring to engage in protected First Amendment expressive activities as suspects of the surveillance state.

There are many anti-liberty problems with the “Patriot Act.” For instance, we are subjected to “sneak-and-peak” searches of our homes and other personal property without being notified and without charges being filed. According to Whitehead the FBI can now “come to your place of employment, demand your personal records and question your supervisors and fellow employees, all without notifying you; allowed the government access to your medical records, school records and practically every personal record about you; and allowed the government to secretly demand to see records of books or magazines you’ve checked out in any public library and Internet sites you’ve visited . . . .” Is this the kind of “security” we are guaranteed in our Constitution? The list of abuses goes on as Whitehead explains:

In the name of fighting terrorism, government officials were permitted to monitor religious and political institutions with no suspicion of criminal wrongdoing; prosecute librarians or keepers of any other records if they told anyone that the government had subpoenaed information related to a terror investigation; monitor conversations between attorneys and clients; search and seize Americans’ papers and effects without showing probable cause; and jail Americans indefinitely without a trial, among other things. The federal government also made liberal use of its new powers, especially through the use (and abuse) of the nefarious national security letters, which allow the FBI to demand personal customer records from Internet Service Providers, financial institutions and credit companies at the mere say-so of the government agent in charge of a local FBI office and without prior court approval.

Our individual liberty as American citizens is at stake — actually, our freedoms are rapidly disappearing. Whitehead enumerates some of the massive changes that have occurred within the past decade. Frankly, the change has been staggering, especially to have occurred in such a short time-frame.

In fact, since 9/11, we’ve been spied on by surveillance cameras, eavesdropped on by government agents, had our belongings searched, our phones tapped, our mail opened, our email monitored, our opinions questioned, our purchases scrutinized (under the USA Patriot Act, banks are required to analyze your transactions for any patterns that raise suspicion and to see if you are connected to any objectionable people), and our activities watched. We’ve also been subjected to invasive patdowns and whole-body scans of our persons and seizures of our electronic devices in the nation’s airports (there were 6,600 such seizures in airports alone between October 2008 and July 2010). We can’t even purchase certain cold medicines at the pharmacy anymore without it being reported to the government and our names being placed on a watch list. . . .

In light of lost liberty, Whitehead correctly asks why there is not more fight against this law that could be “the final nail in our coffin.” He understandably asks why “many of those civil libertarians who took Bush to task and vocally criticized his civil liberties abuses have been virtually silent in face of President Obama’s continuation of Bush programs that undermine the Bill of Rights.” He concludes that many people have just given up and accepted the abuses of this law. After a decade many are tired of fighting what has becoming the new status quo. He also points out that  many on the left appear reluctant to challenge Obama because they don’t want to be perceived as undermining our first black president.

Regardless of these feelings, injustice should always be challenged and our liberty should always be protected no matter which party occupies the White House. We must not fall asleep in this fight or we are likely to awake in chains.

In conclusion, Whitehead issues this solemn warning: “Patriots, wake up! It’s time to protect our country and our rights against a government of wolves that grows more power-hungry with every passing day.” Let us heed his call and join in the fight against this arrogantly mis-named “Patriot Act” that threatens to enslave us all.

Image credit: nixxphotography

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