Patriot Act is the very thing the Constitution guards against

Someday in the future, American politicians who have opposed the Patriot Act will be glad they have. Resentment toward that sinister bulwark of what New Mexico ACLU executive director Peter Simonson calls a Secret Surveillance Society runs deep in our country, and cuts across traditional political barriers.

U.S. Rep. Tom Udall is among those courageous first objectors who voted against the Patriot Act in the first place, the only New Mexican in Congress to do so. And now he's joined in a “tri-partisan” of Texas Republican Ron Paul, Democrat John Conyers from Michigan and Bernard Sanders, a Vermont Independent, to begin what I hope will be a long series of legislative action to dismantle the Patriot Act completely.

Udall and others are co-sponsoring something called the Freedom to Read Protection Act, which would leave libraries and booksellers free from government agents spying on what people read without a warrant from a judge based on probably cause.

“Americans' right to read and purchase books without government monitoring has always been an important value in our nation,” Udall said. “There's no doubt that we must be vigilant in protecting America from another terrorist attack. But the threat of terrorism should not be used as an excuse for “Big Brother” to threaten our most cherished, constitutionally guaranteed, civil liberties,” Udall said.

Udall continued, “We live in an era where the FBI can investigate American citizens based in part on an American's use of his or her First Amendment Rights, such as writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper or reading books the government might not approve of. I expect that there will be a number of efforts to address other troubling aspects of the Patriot Act.”

The Patriot Act virtually guts the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution, the guardian of our privacy, which reads, “The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”

The Founding Fathers crafted the Fourth Amendment to protect citizens from the odious practice in English law called general warrants, which allowed the king to search and seize at will, without any explanation, cause, or redress. This is exactly what the Patriot Act now allows federal agents to do, snooping on the internet without warrants, coming into your house secretly, invading your computer, and leaving without notice or trace.

“Standing back from the muddle of Patriot Act provisions..., one can see a pattern of the Bush administration consolidating more and more power in the executive branch,” Peter Simonson wrote recently. “Court-stripping, unilateral action, fishing expeditions, and secrecy all are tools to shed institutionalized checks on the government's authority and condition the public to passively submit to the government's agenda,” Simonson wrote.

This agenda, he feels, “aims at realizing a design for America... where the threat of secret surveillance looms over our private lives and disciplines us to be politically “safe” citizens.

At a UNM forum sponsored by the NMACLU this week on the Patriot Act, a large lecture hall was filled to overflow capacity to hear scholars and attorneys assess the act and its impact on our lives. Americans all over the country are coming together to speak out against the hastily constructed post-9/11 legislation.

And even Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer, in a rare public comment for a justice, said that “disagreements about government restrictions, security threats, civil liberties, do not mean that disaster is upon us, but that the democratic process is at work. Breyer told the Association of the Bar of the City of New York recently that the “Constitution always matters, perhaps particularly so in times of emergency.”

When pols run around calling dissenters, including Democratic candidates, unpatriotic and demanding 100% unity and agreement, it's wise to remember the last election of Saddam Hussein in which the dictator won 100% to 0%.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
April 15, 2003