The United States Constitution was constructed by the Founding Fathers to create a limited government that did not infringe greatly upon the rights and privileges of its free citizens. The overall goal was to create a government that would provide protection and assistance to its citizens without unduly taking away their freedoms. After the September 11, 2001 attacks, this particular outlook toward the federal government started to change: with legislation such as the Patriot Act and others, there is a significant push toward expanding governmental powers to increase the ability to wire-tap and take action against potential threats to security1. While these things are, ostensibly, well-intentioned, I believe that this is not what the Founding Fathers had in mind when they drafted the Constitution, and to make these changes is a step backwards for democracy.
The clearest example of these changes being made to the Constitution is the Patriot Act, enacted in 2001 as a response to 9/11. In the Act, law enforcement agencies were given much more leeway in methods of gathering intelligence - the Secretary of the Treasury was allowed to regulate financial transactions, and domestic terrorism was also brought under the blanket definition of terrorism, opening up more law enforcement powers2. More recent legislation towards this trend includes the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), which included measures to indefinitely detain individuals who are suspected of terrorism.
There are those who would argue that these changes are absolutely necessary; the attacks on 9/11 were very frightening, and they most certainly demonstrated the presence of non-governmental organizations, like terrorist groups, that are more than willing to commit atrocities on American soil. The threats of suicide bombers, sleeper cells, and more presented themselves in the American consciousness, and it became necessary, it was thought, to give law enforcement more leeway and resources to combat these threats. In principle, it appears to be an effective and sensible idea.
However, to the rate at which these new laws are occurring, further infringements upon American life are being put in place day after day, to little discernible effect in preventing terrorist attacks. Some measures, including the provision within the 2011 NDAA that terror suspects can be detained indefinitely without trial, flies in the face of the principles behind which the Constitution stands. All men are owed a fair trial of their peers, regardless of level of suspicion, and this indefinite detention without trial is a violation of that principle. It sets a dangerous precedent akin to witch-hunting; without the possibility of exoneration, regular, potentially innocent American civilians are subjected to inhuman treatment by their own government, all for the sake of security theater. There is little to no indication that these kinds of measures provide adequate protection from terror threats, and they only serve to limit our freedoms, which the Founding Fathers would find unconscionable3.
In conclusion, I believe these new anti-terror measures and expansion of powers are unconstitutional; the detention of terror suspects without trial, as well as the potential to wiretap and eavesdrop without the knowledge of the people is ill-advised and ineffective at stopping terror attacks. There must be a balance found between security and liberty, so that we may maintain our own free lives while still being guarded from threats both foreign and domestic.
Heather A. Phillips, "Libraries and National Security Law: An Examination of the USA Patriot
Act." Progressive Librarian 25 (2005): 1-16. Available at SSRN:
Kim Lane Scheppele, Law in a Time of Emergency. University of Pennsylvania Law School
Paper 55 (2004).
Adam Serwer, "The Defense Bill Passed. So What Does it Do?" Mother Jones. Dec. 16, 2011.
Retrieved from http://www.motherjones.com/mojo/2011/12/defense-bill-passed-so-what-