Patriot Act: a necessary piece of national security

By Barney Keller

In order to understand the oft-bashed Patriot Act, one must understand the origins of what Emily Alpert called “overtly Orwellian” (“Bush’s Secrecy Blocks View of White House Actions,” 11/21/03).

The Patriot Act was started because of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Liberals would have you believe that those attacks were because of our foreign policy and because we meddled where we were not wanted. The favorite buzzword you hear from the left these days is the word “imperialism” in association with the U.S. military. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

The Patriot Act was actually just a federal combination of 15 existing statutes that were then updated for the crises that we face now in fighting terrorism abroad. The “expansion” of the Act by Attorney General John Ashcroft was simply to close loopholes in those laws. The Act enables the government to give a judge the authority to allow the monitoring of a person making unauthorized encrypted communications from a computer. It allows the government the ability to make roving wiretaps. What this means is that the FBI can now follow a terrorist’s calls, and not just one particular phone number. Sound horrible yet? Since many terrorists use student visas to gain entry into our country, the Patriot Act also allows the government to follow their progress and to (god forbid) pull their library records to see if a foreign national is reading The Cat in the Hat or Did You Know You Can Make a Bomb Out of Fertilizer? Since its inception, there have been terrorist cells arrested in Buffalo, Seattle, Portland, and Detroit, and now thousands of people hostile to Americans are under surveillance across the globe.

The arguments from the American Civil Liberties Union are knee-jerk and typical. Civil rights abuses you say? The Patriot Act requires the inspector general at the Department of Justice to investigate complaints. Of the 1,037 claims made of civil rights abuses, 34 were found to be credible, and even then, most of those stemmed from some ignorant prison guard verbally harassing a prisoner. Sound Orwellian yet?

Also, the government could go through your closet and find your Playboy magazine, then leak it later to destroy your reputation! Ladies and gentleman, I’m going to tell you that the government has been able to go through your stuff for years now. It’s called a warrant, and you still need to go to a judge to get one. This is neither Nazi Germany in 1935 nor the horrors described in George Orwell’s 1984. The only thing I will concede about this legislation is that in some places it goes too far in protecting our country, but the Republican controlled House and Senate have already scaled back those parts.

Finally, is there any doubt that we are constantly at war? There is war in Iraq, but there is also an intelligence war going on here. That Muhammed Atta and his cronies slipped by the CIA and FBI two years ago is unacceptable. The Patriot Act boosts the powers of those agencies so that something like 9/11 will never happen again.

Those who think that the only reason that we are at risk from terrorism is because of Afghanistan and Iraq are deluded and are missing the point. September 11 made us realize more than ever how important it is for us to use our powers to modernize the world.

Feudal warlords in Afghanistan, 400,000 in mass graves in Iraq, women dying in a school fire in Iran because the religious military let the men out first—these are the real human-rights issues that are happening across the planet, and I am at a loss to explain why anyone would not want those problems stopped immediately. The people who perpetrate terrorism in our country are not affiliated with any country, and President Bush and the United States acknowledge that. Our battle is not one of vengeance, but rather one of responsibility. In the meantime, we need the Patriot Act to protect our citizens in these trying times, when America is trying to change the world, and in a positive way.

Alpert said “privacy, in the White House, is a deeply held value until it’s applied to somebody else.” Nothing could be farther from the truth. President Bush and other neo-conservatives believe that privacy is a value that should be held by everyone. The Patriot Act should do an excellent job protecting Americans while Bush’s progressive foreign policy is put in motion.