[Mb-civic] RIGHTS AND THE NEW REALITY Trading Liberty for Security

Michael Butler michael at michaelbutler.com
Fri Sep 10 10:00:32 PDT 2004



Trading Liberty for Security

 September 10, 2004

 Americans lost so much on that gorgeous, sunlit morning of Sept. 11, 2001.
More than 3,000 mothers, fathers, sons and daughters. The belief, however
chimerical, that this nation was invulnerable. A nation's naivete about the
wickedness that men will do. In the sad and anxious years since, there have
been other losses, including one that has revealed itself more slowly: the
steady erosion of civil rights.

 The president and attorney general, from their first days in office, have
pursued secrecy and restrictions on civil liberties. The terror attacks gave
them a new rationale ‹ national security.

 Three years later, the landscape of American liberties stands profoundly
altered. The Patriot Act gives the government unprecedented new powers to
snoop and arrest. Incorporated almost verbatim into the law's 300 pages are
wish lists that prosecutors drafted long before the attacks.

 The act allows law enforcement officers to comb through people's medical or
financial data without their knowledge. If FBI agents ask, public librarians
and booksellers must hand over records of their patrons' reading habits;
they can be prosecuted if they tell those targeted by such demands. The FBI
can secretly collect information on businesses or charities it suspects of
financing terrorism. Agents can far more easily seize books, journals or
computers from someone's home, membership lists from organizations,
including churches and temples, and subscriber lists for any magazine.

 Equally alarming, government investigators can now share surveillance
information, collected in an effort to catch spies, with prosecutors looking
to nab people suspected of dealing drugs or in other common crimes, even
though espionage-related surveillance requests have to meet a much lower
legal standard of suspicion.

 The government's secret "no-fly" list is full of errors, bumping innocent
individuals from planes and trapping those who try to get their names
expunged in an endless maze. The FBI continues to "invite" immigrants ‹
usually Middle Eastern men accused of no crime ‹ in for questioning. Before
last month's Republican National Convention, agents knocked on the doors of
dozens of would-be protesters, visits clearly designed to intimidate them.

 About 250 local governments and state legislatures, including the Los
Angeles City Council, have passed resolutions calling for the Patriot Act's
repeal or amendment. Three years ago, federal lawmakers rushed to pass the
massive legislation, and many now admit they didn't read it first. Several
pending bills would restore the civil rights protections that set the United
States apart. The proposals would restrain secret fishing expeditions and
require more openness, while still giving law enforcement ample tools to
fight terror.

 As the nation marks another sorrowful anniversary, Congress should begin to
make those repairs.

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 Copyright 2004 Los Angeles Times

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