Home of the Free?

Since September 11, many liberties have been taken away from Americans in the name of defending freedom. The Patriot Act has not only taken away search and seizure rights over your home and personal property, but this law also extends into the privacy of your home or office by going into your computer via Internet access.

That’s right, in America it is perfectly legal for the FBI to follow every transaction you make online, along with reviewing your e-mails and other information you transfer over the World Wide Web. Due to the increase in avenues of communication over the years, the Patriot act allows authorities the right to intercept any type of wire or electronic communication regardless of where it is coming from.

If that’s not scary enough, authorities are allowed to use your medical, financial, educational and even your library records without your consent or proof that you are involved in a crime.

Anti-terrorism laws, put into effect on October 26, 2001, not only allow law enforcement officers to use information found to convict suspects of terrorist activity but also allow them to use that information for criminal and intelligence investigations. Other information that can be obtained through e-mail addresses include sites that have been viewed in cyberspace along with what people are reading, downloading and purchasing.

What if someone else was to hack into my e-mail and buy materials to make a bomb? Would I be thrown in prison? Is there enough evidence there to prove that it was someone else and not me?

Attorney General John Ashcroft convinced Congress and the Senate to pass the bill shortly after September 11 and is now pushing to make it permanent. Barry Steinhardt, the Director of the American Civil Liberties Union’s Technology and Liberty Program says, “The nation needs to know if these powers are truly making us any safer-or just less free.” It’s about time someone brought that up!

Not only has the Patriot Act been a quest against the traditional definition of terrorism and all the acts which fit the profile, it also extends terrorism to a whole new level. New forms of terrorism include hacking into U.S. government computer systems or damaging any computer connected to the Internet. Anyone convicted of hacking into government files can serve prison terms ranging from five to 20 years. According to “USA Today” in May of 2002, agents can deliver a letter to Internet Service Providers saying that they intend to ask the judge for a warrant and then receive information from the service provider BEFORE the warrant has even been approved.

Those who study history understand that this is a reoccurring problem. During World War I, the Espionage Act was written and put into affect. In 1917, this act made it legal for the government to punish those who made false statements that interfered with military operations, or anyone who opposed the government or the war. Apparently the First Amendment was put on hold in 1917, due to the crisis caused by the war. Think of the millions of American’s back in the spring who would have been arrested for opposing the war in what we consider exercising your right to free speech. In the early 1900’s, opposition of the government was not tolerated like it is today.

During World War II, censorship was widely used as well. Only pro-war propaganda was found in major newspapers, television advertisements and magazines. The government wanted to make sure that our soldiers overseas knew that they were supported by the home front.

The Cold War against communism had a twist of its own. The legislative branch of government actually gave more power to the federal government to make split second decisions concerning where and when the military or police would respond to threats. Congress understood that in a nuclear age, by the time a bill was brought to the House floor, a nuclear missile could be on its way from Russia to the United States. With this fear in the back of everyone’s mind, Congress allowed the executive branch more power.

Of course during World War I, World War II and the earlier stages of the Cold War, communication interceptions via cell phones and Internet access were not really a problem. However, they had other ways of limiting the rights of the people and extending the rights of the federal government.

The Patriot Act has been executed under a Republican administration, but these actions are nowhere near conservative in nature, nor do they fit the ideological standards of the American way of life. America was formed in order to ensure its citizens the right to free speech and the right to private property, including your personal computer.

Over the years drastic measures have been taken in times of war. The extent of governmental actions has a lot to do with the technology of the time. When is enough, enough? I just do not understand why, in a country that harps on the word freedom, our government is allowed to legally incarcerate someone after invading their privacy and violating search and seizure rights that are granted by the Constitution.