The events of September 11, 2001 will forever remain etched in the memories of many people. The attacks on United States left many in horror; beyond the gruesome murders and the maiming of thousands, the security of Americans and the rest of the world in general remain volatile. The US congress moved swiftly to enact laws as the government sought to tighten the security of its people. However, some of the security measures the government took have been condemned by civil rights activists as infringing on the civil liberties of Americans.
Civil liberties are, “the personal freedoms and guarantees that the federal government cannot abridge by constitution, law or any judicial interpretations” (Bullock & Haddow, 2012). The enjoyment of civil liberties by Americans is currently a major controversial issue in contemporary America. This essay expound on how the First and Fourth Amendments have been modified since congress adopted the USA Patriotic Act. In addition, I will explain why I believe gags on civil liberties violate the principles upon which American democracy is founded.
The adoption of the USA Patriot Act by the American congress has severely limited Provisions of the Bill of Rights. The USA Patriot Act was signed into law 45 days after the September 11 attacks. Many of the new powers of the Act received inadequate consideration by members of the congress. Congress reviewed some provisions of the US Patriot Act in 2005 but the Act still contains contentious clauses. Some of the clauses curtail the freedoms of speech, religion and expression as they are contained in the First Amendment. Most notably section 215 explicitly prohibits the disclosure of actions taken by the government regarding terrorism and security. Examples of these restrictions include the prohibition of people who have ever been subjected to the searches from revealing the ordeals to anyone.
In spite of the requirement for secrecy being unproven, the Patriot Act pressurizes the media to strictly report only the positives of American combats on terrorism (Cohen, 2010). Aspects of fighting terrorism have been stretched to include weird ordeals such as forcing arrested Muslims in Afghanistan and Iraq to eat pork. This violates basic rules of the Islam religion. The First Amendment calls for the government to uphold the freedom of religion and these practices by American soldiers puts in question the government’s respect on religion.
The provisions of the Patriotic Act have also encouraged the violation of civil liberties by engaging in ethnic profiling and harassment of individuals. This is done through “watchlists” at financial institutions, airports, car central agencies and businesses intimidate Americans (Maurer, 2009). Moreover, the government has detained individuals for lengthy periods of time without bringing charging them on any criminal offenses. O’connor and Sabato, (2009) assert that at times these individuals are not allowed to consult attorneys while they remain in highly punitive conditions.
The Patriot Act includes several violations on the Fourth Amendment. These Act permits the government access and examination of personal records held by third parties, (Bullock & Haddow, 2012). Others are the expansion of the government’s right to conduct searches on private property without the owner’s consent. Explicitly, section 215 of the constitution permits the government to request “any tangible thingincluding records, papers, documents and other items,” (Cohen, 2010). Persons from whom these items are requested are not allowed to reveal the inspection. In case the government asks to conduct a search on private property it just has to officially state to a judge that the intended search satisfies the provisions of the Act without having to provide any evidence to substantsiate the search.
All is not doom and gloom about the Patriot Act. It for instance provides useful counterterrorism tools for law enforcement, intelligence agencies, financial regulators and the update of laws to reflect advances in technology. These provisions have put in place organized structures to address terrorism by facilitating the training of specialized anti-terrorism units. The government has also acted contrary to the expectations of Americans by failing to secure the borders adequately. The government has resorted to punitive and practices that violate human rights in addressing immigration issues. Immigrants are seen to pose a security threat to Americans. The government should come up with proactive socio-economic policies to address problems related to immigration instead of the current situation where immigrants are prejudiced and treated inhumanely.
The restrictions in civil liberties violate the principles of American democracy. The approach taken by the government bears more on secrecy, invasion of individual privacy and violation of freedoms of speech, expression and religion. Being a Muslim in the United States has almost been “criminalized”. In place of this approach, the government should consider empowering surveillance and law enforcement agencies. It should also address immigration pro-actively. Cooperation with immigrant communities would create goodwill around the globe by facilitating study, travel and work for foreign nationals. Lastly the executive branch of government ought to put in place wholesome safeguards by considering the impacts of government policies on civil liberties. The Patriot Act has some advantages in that it provides for the enforcement of laws, intelligence agencies, financial regulators and the advances in technology. The government should strike a balance between increasing security and curbing terrorism with increased allowance for people to enjoy their civil liberties.
Bullock, J., & Haddow, G. (2012). Introduction to Homeland Security Principles of All-Hazards Risk Management. (4th ed.). Burlington: Elsevier Science.
Maurer, S. M. (2009). WMD terrorism science and policy choices. Cambridge, Mass.: MIT
Connor, K., & Sabato, L. (2009). Essentials of American government: continuity and change (2009 ed.). White Plains, N.Y.: Longman
Cohen,H. (2010) Freedom of Speech and Press: Exceptions to the First Amendment. Vol 95, Issue 815 of CRS for Congress. Diane Publishing.