You are assigned a school project on al-Qaida, and being the hard worker you are, you race to the library to get some books. The librarian seems to give you a very strange look as you go to check the books out. Something feels off, and you get a sudden feeling someone is watching you.
Maybe someone is.
The USA Patriot Act was signed into law on Oct. 26, 2001, in an attempt to make sure events like the Sept. 11 attacks would not be repeated. It is an acronym for Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism.
The act gives law enforcement agencies broader authority to search a person’s e-mail, telephone, medical, financial, library and other records, as well as tap into the phone lines of people they view as suspicious. Also, it allows for the indefinite detention of immigrants the government sees as a threat.
The act was controversial from its inception, but most understand why it was created, even if they don’t agree with it.
“I believe that the act was created with benevolent intentions, in order to protect the security of citizens, but I think it is a bad idea,” said Social Studies teacher Shane Tomashot. “It seems to me that it could be the beginning of a slow erosion of civil liberties.”
Supporters of the act think the power given virtually guarantees nothing like the attacks of that September day will ever happen again. According to Whitehouse.gov, Former President George W. Bush, who signed the bill initially and renewed it in 2006 said, “The Patriot Act has accomplished exactly what it was designed to do. It has helped us detect terrorist cells, disrupt terrorist plots and save American lives.”
The bill had to be renewed in 2006 and four provisions will have to be renewed again in 2010; other provisions are permanent. A recent House Intelligence committee approved a plan to let one provision expire unless renewed by Congress.
That provision allows the FBI to wiretap suspected “lone wolf” terrorists who may be operating without the help of a foreign agent or power.
Some Americans support granting these powers to the government, but with stipulations.
“When we are at war, these powers could help,” said junior Andrew Angerer. “You have historical instances of presidents doing this sort of thing throughout American history. Abraham Lincoln did it during the Civil War and Woodrow Wilson did it during World War I.”
However, many Americans are fearful of the Patriot Act and the power it hands out. The biggest sticking points of the act are that it authorizes the indefinite detention of immigrants and gives law enforcement the authority to search a home or business without informing the owner or occupant.
“The Patriot Act is just a way for the government to keep tabs on who they want to keep tabs on, regardless of probable cause,” said junior Ben Riches. “It is essentially a blank check for power.”
In times of doubt, Tomashot promotes looking at advice from the founding fathers. He points out one Benjamin Franklin quote in particular:
“Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.”