PUBLIC DOMAIN The PATRIOT Act gave the government unprecedented access to civilian electronic activity.
Last week marked the 16th anniversary of the tragic attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. These attacks caused a ripple effect of kindness around the world: The New York firefighters sprung to the scene immediately, neighbors were doing anything they could to lift each other up and people in countries all around the world were deeming themselves as “American” as a sign of solidarity.
The Bush administration thought they needed to impose new regulations and securities to keep the American people safe from further attacks. The effects of these decisions still linger today.
One of the most controversial decisions made in the aftermath of 9/11 was passing the USA PATRIOT Act. This was the wrong approach and it does not get to the heart of our security issue.
Just over one month after the 9/11 attacks, the PATRIOT Act was passed. This is probably something that you have heard about in the news or even during a dinner table rant at Thanksgiving.
This act essentially gave government bureaucrats the ability to live vicariously through our cell phones, our computer searches and our utility bills. The passing of this act was an attempt to “[Unite] and [Strengthen] America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism,” which is also the official title of the act. However, it is nothing other than an unnecessary breach of power by the government.
Why does the government need to hear about the meal I had at R House with some of my friends last Wednesday? Who’s to say whether a government official is scanning over my computer history right now because I researched the aftermath of the attacks.
When the PATRIOT ACT was passed Thomas Jefferson’s idea that liberty is the most important thing after life was flushed down the drain.
The bill was a rushed and ill-thought attempt at keeping the country safe. Frantic from the attacks, Congress felt like they needed to pass something, anything, to make the American people feel safe in their own homes. Instead, the PATRIOT ACT had the opposite effect. It put Americans on edge, as if they were being watched constantly by a random bureaucrat in a dimly lit room.
And the worst part is that this worry was not unwarranted. In his speech directly after he signed the act, President Bush stated that it would not only help curb terrorist actions but it would also “protect the constitutional rights of all Americans.” However, it seems to have been insufficient at doing both of these things.
According to the American Civil Liberties Union’s website, the FBI issued 192,499 National Security Letters between 2003 and 2006. This allowed them to obtain personal information without a judge’s approval. And it “led to one terror-related conviction. The conviction would have occurred even without the Patriot Act,” according to the ACLU.
This is not to say that ensuring public safety is not important. Liberty cannot exist without a safe environment to live in. But the PATRIOT Act was not a good approach. Instead of keeping bombs off our streets, it put cameras in our living rooms.
In more recent years, new issues with terrorism have entered the public conscience. Al-Qaeda is no longer at the tip of people’s tongues when they talk about terrorist attacks.
They have been eclipsed by the rise of the Islamic State or ISIS and the resurgence of the Taliban. ISIS has been able to create a network of force all over the world and has recently carried out attacks in Europe.
With these groups and more vying for power in the Middle East and throughout the world, the question is not if there will be another terrorist attack on American soil. The question is when will this attack happen. And when it comes, the U.S. must be ready to learn from our mistakes and rethink our decision making.
Samuel Sklarin is a sophomore International Studies major from San Francisco.