passed legislation last week that reauthorizes the PATRIOT Act for another
10 years, although the bill faced far more opposition than the original Act
four years ago. I'm heartened that more members of Congress are listening
to their constituents, who remain deeply skeptical about the PATRIOT Act and
expansions of federal police power in general. They rightfully wonder why Congress
is so focused on American citizens, while bin Laden and other terrorist leaders
still have not been captured.
The tired arguments we're hearing today are that same ones we heard in 2001
when the PATRIOT Act was passed in the emotional aftermath of the Sept. 11 terrorist
attacks. If the PATRIOT Act is constitutional and badly needed, as its proponents
swear, why were sunset provisions included at all? If it's unconstitutional
and pernicious, why not abolish it immediately? All of this nonsense about sunsets
and reauthorizations merely distracts us from the real issue, which is personal
liberty. America was not founded on a promise of security; it was founded on
a promise of personal liberty to pursue happiness.
One prominent Democratic opined on national television that "most of the
170 page PATRIOT Act is fine," but that it needs some fine tuning. He then
stated that he opposed the 10-year reauthorization bill on the grounds that
Americans should not have their constitutional rights put on hold for a decade.
His party's proposal, however, was to reauthorize the PATRIOT Act for only four
years, as though a shorter moratorium on constitutional rights would be acceptable!
So much for the opposition party and its claim to stand for civil liberties.
Unfortunately, some of my congressional colleagues referenced the recent London
bombings during the debate, insinuating that opponents of the PATRIOT Act somehow
would be responsible for a similar act here at home. I won't even dignify that
slur with the response it deserves. Let's remember that London is the most heavily
monitored city in the world, with surveillance cameras recording virtually all
public activity in the city center. British police officials are not hampered
by our 4th Amendment nor our numerous due process requirements. In other words,
they can act without any constitutional restrictions, just as supporters of
the PATRIOT Act want our own police to act. Despite this they were not able
to prevent the bombings, proving that even a wholesale surveillance society
cannot be made completely safe against determined terrorists. Congress misses
the irony entirely. The London bombings don't prove the need for the PATRIOT
Act they prove the folly of it.
The PATRIOT Act, like every political issue, boils down to a simple choice:
Should we expand government power, or reduce it? This is the fundamental political
question of our day, but it's quickly forgotten by politicians who once
promised to stand for smaller government. Most governments, including our own,
tend to do what they can get away with rather than what the law allows them
to do. All governments seek to increase their power over the people they govern,
whether we want to recognize it or not. The PATRIOT Act is a vivid example of
this. Constitutions and laws don't keep government power in check; only
a vigilant populace can do that.