In the days of fear and paranoia after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the United States Congress acted swiftly to show the American public that lawmakers were doing something about the terrorist threat. Unfortunately, the USA PATRIOT Act was ill-considered — many members of Congress didn’t even read the bill before voting for it — and a threat to our rights.
The legislation was camouflaged with a gimmicky acronym: Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism. But the patriotic name hides a set of laws that give the federal government unprecedented powers to snoop.
The government said it would use these powers to pursue only terrorists, yet investigators have used their new abilities in regular criminal cases as well. The potential for abuse, for using these tools against people as political payback, is far too great.
Other little-known provisions of the act are just now taking effect. New rules aimed at preventing money laundering and terrorist financing force banks and credit card companies to require more documentation from clients opening new accounts. According to a story distributed by Knight-Ridder Newspapers, the effort is especially costly for smaller banks, which don’t have the resources of larger institutions. It’s also far too intrusive on customers, who shouldn’t be treated like potential criminals.
Groups from across the political spectrum — from the American Civil Liberties Union to the Eagle Forum — have spoken out about the threat the Patriot Act poses to our freedoms.
Politicians, too, are coming out to oppose the legislation. Across the nation, scores of communities big and small are passing resolutions protesting the USA PATRIOT Act. Some towns are liberal, others are conservative. From Hawaii to California to Virginia, from the metropolis of Chicago to the small town of Tonasket, Ore., city and town councils and committees are speaking out against the government’s massive infringements on citizens’ rights.
“More than 140 cities and counties, in addition to state legislatures in Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont, have approved resolutions condemning the Patriot Act and, in a few cases, refusing to enforce it,” the Washington Post reported recently.
And that number will grow, as Americans let their leaders know they have given up too much liberty in exchange for the dubious security of the Patriot Act. Of course we should take steps to protect our country, but we shouldn’t have to give up our basic freedoms and sacrifice our constitutional rights to do so.
We need to let the lawmakers in Congress know that we don’t want to turn this country into a police state.