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Saturday, September 17, 2005

The Defense of Liberty

Anthony D. Romero wrote an article called In Defense of Liberty at a Time of National Emergency, where I pulled this quote:

"Recent changes to U.S. laws have given government expanded power to invade our privacy, imprison people without meaningful due process, and punish dissent."

That above statement worries me greatly. I just love that U.S. law gives the government the right to invade my life. The fact that some how it got so miss worded that now the government can tap my phone, can come into my home, download my computer and not tell me till after the fact. What happened to limited government?

All the above things I listed as being things the government now has permission to do are stated in the USA Patriot Act, which was proudly and aggressively supported by the President. One of the provisions listed in the Patriot Act is a part about "extended wiretap authority", which says, "law enforcement can obtain the equivalent of blank search warrants, and by authorizing intelligence wiretaps that need not specify the phone to be tapped or be limited to the suspect’s conversations." At what point in time did my family, friends, or anyone else for that matter agree to that? I want my government to protect my property and me, but not to the point where they can just invade my life when they want.
Another thing listed in the Patriot Act is "the use of ‘sneak and peek’ searches to circumvent the Fourth Amendment." Which in basic terms means law enforcement officials could enter your home, office, or other private place and conduct a search, take photographs, and download your computer files without notifying you until after the fact. What gives them the right to over rule amendments? What kind of paranoid world must we live in to violate our own amendments and privacy? I don’t know if I have faith in my government to protect me anymore. I don’t know if I ever would want to. I can you power to protect me from other people doing these things to me, not so the government could freely do these things.

Did you?

I'm afraid I haven't followed the political conversation regarding the Patriot Act in any of the specific details.

If we are thinking about government's role with respect to protecting individual liberty, then I think we might recognize there is sort of a balance to be struck. Presumably the Patriot Act is directed at protecting citizens of our country from harm by citizens of other countries. If efforts to protect us from harm by others is harmful to us, then it would seem government has gone too far. Yet, what if not going that far leads to harm to some of us caused by others from other countries? So, perhaps there is a balance, and perhaps that balance needs to move in one direction or another because of the advertised harm that non-citizens want to do to Americans. It seems to me it is the challenge of aggressive action by non-citizens that requires a government response. Perhaps that response can go too far, but I think we want our government to act to protect from harm from such non-citizens.

Although I have not followed the political discussions, one thing I have heard is that the Patriot Act has not suspended the idea of relying on the Court to allow or not various ways in which the police might invade our privacy and our rights. Our right to privacy is of course not unconstrained. We do not have the right to harm someone in the privacy of our home, for example. Are there specific ways in which the checks provided by Courts have been suspended by the Patriot Act?
Prof. Eubanks refers to our right to privacy. I have always believed in some sort of right but recently read "Understanding Privacy-and the Real Threats to It" by Jim Harper in the Aug. 4, 2004 issue of Policy Analysis and question why I believe that. I haven’t figured worked it all out just yet.

Harper says in reference right to privacy violations of the Patriot Act,

Though generations of advocates have called information privacy a "right," the better view is that it is not. Privacy is a condition people maintain by exercising personal initiative and responsibility. Other legal rights allow them to do this.

What do you think? Are we responsible for maintaining barriers to protect privacy?
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