In his recent State of the Union Address, President Bush called on Congress to renew the Patriot Act, granting law enforcement agencies, such as the Federal Bureau of Investigation, extended abilities to fight terrorism.
Some provisions, such as the infamous Section 215, go far beyond fighting terrorists and do a great deal to erode the rights of law-abiding Americans.
Section 215 allows the FBI to look up what an individual has been checking out of the library, where a person has traveled, and even personal health information. Investigators can obtain this information with almost no formalities, without the individual’s knowledge. The person in question has no judicial means of appeal.
Though Attorney General John Ashcroft insists that Section 215 has yet to be utilized, one has to ask why such powers are needed. The need to renew the law enforcement powers is far from clear.
The Patriot Act is so unpopular that some cities, including Chicago, Philadelphia and Baltimore, and even some states, such as Alaska, Hawaii and Vermont, have passed measures limiting the powers outlined in the act.
While extra measures should be taken to combat terrorism, it should be obvious that preserving our civil liberties is the higher priority. If we allow our rights to be stripped away in the name of security, there may be nothing left to protect.