In the recent years and even months, the war with terrorism and homeland security, especially airport security, have been on the top of the list of priorities of our government. Many security propositions and initiatives have been passed in Congress. This is done to make the community of our country safer and strengthen our military force. Since 9/11, all levels and branches of government have cooperated to strengthen aviation and border security, stockpile more medicines to defend against bio-terrorism, improve information sharing among our intelligence agencies and deploy more resources and personnel to protect our critical infrastructure.
However the changing nature of the threats for our country creates a need for a new and government structure that would be capable of protecting our country from attacks using any type of weapons. President Bush has proposed the most significant transformation of the U.S. government in over a half-century by consolidating the current confusing patchwork of government activities into a single department called the Department of Homeland Security. The Department of Homeland Security will have in one place all the resources needed to do what it takes to protect our country. The reorganization of America’s homeland security infrastructure is crucial to overcoming the enormous threat we face today. Currently, the Senate is working to follow the House’s lead and establish a Department of Homeland Security.
Americans’ attitudes toward the war on terrorism have changed dramatically over the past year. Soon after the attacks on September 11, CBS poll discovered that around seventy nine percent of American people were eager to forfeit personal liberties to fight terrorism. But a Princeton survey in May found that only 40 percent of respondents said they trusted the government. The American Civil Liberties Union and others have attributed the fading support to the fears that legislation such as the USA Patriot Act — which gives terrorism investigators broad surveillance powers -– will erode the constitutional freedoms of ordinary citizens. Although many of the surveillance provisions of the act expire after five years, others do not.
Eight cities of the major states have accepted resolutions under the name of Patriot Act. Late last year, Congress passed and the President signed the PATRIOT Act. This new law is helping to secure America’s future while protecting our freedoms and Constitutional rights. It enhances foreign intelligence surveillance tools, strengthens control of border abuse by foreign terrorists, improves law enforcement sharing of information, increases penalties for terrorism, broadens the definition of terrorist acts and protects against abuse of new police powers.
The opposition say the FBI has track record where its agents were abusing powers that also included a large scale monitoring of political dissenters and civil rights fighters, Martin Luther King was one of them, and therefore should not be trusted. The extent of the King surveillance, for example, wasn’t revealed until decades later. But supporters insist there is no evidence that the government has abused its new powers.
“The only significant diminution in personal freedom for American citizens is that we now have to take off our shoes at airport security,” said Paul Rosenweig, a senior legal research fellow with the conservative Heritage Foundation.
Since launching their no-holds-barred investigation into the Sept. 11 attacks, the FBI has released an astonishing amount of information about the men who they have identified as the hijackers. There are photographs of them passing through airport security and peering into ATM machines. The FBI has records of their cell phone calls, their cash transfers, air travel, credit card purchases, car rentals, email messages and hotel bills.
Now that the hunt is on for accomplices who could be planning more attacks, law enforcement officials have sought the legal authority to collect even more information about the minutiae of daily life. The new anti-terrorism law signed into law on Oct. 26 grants law enforcement authorities sweeping new surveillance powers that are not limited to terrorism investigations but also apply to criminal and intelligence investigations.
The new law, known as the USA Patriot Act, reaches into every space that Americans once imagined was private. For instance, police can now obtain court orders to conduct so called “sneak and peak” searches of homes and offices. This allows them to break in, examine and remove or alter items without immediately, if ever, presenting owners with a warrant detailing what they were entitled to do and where
The Justice Department has failed to answer questions about how the Patriot Act is being applied, but it bristles at suggestions that it is chipping away at Americans’ freedoms.
“We are not under any obligation to provide information that could lead to the flight of a suspect or that will ruin a prosecution,” said department spokesman Mark Corallo. “We are doing everything we can within the Constitution to stop these guys from killing us again.
“I would say the Patriot Act is effective because we have not had another attack this year,” he added.
The USA Patriot Act changes some of Americans’ fundamental legal rights in the name of the war on terror, including:
- Freedom of association: The government may monitor religious and political groups without evidence of criminal activity.
- Right to liberty: Americans may be jailed without being charged or being able to confront witnesses against them.
- Freedom from unreasonable searches: The government may search and seize Americans’ papers and effects without probable cause to aid terrorism investigation.
- Freedom of speech: The government may prosecute librarians, telecommunication company officials and anyone else who reveals they have received a subpoena for records related to the terrorism investigation.
- Right to legal representation: The government may monitor penal communications between attorneys and clients, and deny lawyers to Americans accused of crimes.
- Right to a speedy and public trial: The government may jail Americans indefinitely without a trial.
- Freedom of information: The government has closed once-public immigration hearings, secretly detained hundreds of people without charges, and has encouraged bureaucrats to resist requests for public records under the Freedom of Information Act.
Congress and the President have increased airport security by mandating uniform standards and providing the safest possible environment for American travelers on planes, at airports and on trains. But does Patriot Act along with other similar acts truly correspond with American dream – democracy.