Monday, October 8, 2001 Volume 67, Issue 33


 
 









 
New act threatens civil liberties

Randy Woock
Guest Columnist

Sun Tzu, venerable Chinese philosopher/military strategist and intensely quotable chap, offered this popular suggestion in his book, The Art of War; he said: "Know Your Enemy."

How can "Knowing Your Enemy" help one to make sense of the recent bouts of terrorist attacks, knee-jerk patriotism and the unending stream of machismo
threats coming from the White House?

Well, the first step in knowing your enemy is to know whom your enemy is. The U.S. military's glance has gone over toward the lands of the Middle East,
where they commit the grievous sin of not looking, talking or acting like most of us over here do.

But the search for a more immediate threat would be better served by looking closer to home. The main threat to an American citizen is not crazed
terrorists. The greatest threat faced by a citizen of this country, is none other than the United States' government.

The reason why this is so is because of a little bill that is being formulated by the House of Representatives -- the Anti-Terrorism Bill, more properly called
Provide Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001. And just like in some cheesy James Bond movie, it's referred to by its
acronym, the PATRIOT Act of 2001.

What the bill with the oh-so catchy name is designed to do is limit our civil liberties. Of course, ask your friendly congressperson about it and they'll tell you
that its meant to protect you; to help state and local law enforcement fight "suspected terrorists."

Right. Of course, Agent Orange was merely designed to be a defoliant. The fact that it gave the men that dropped it and their offspring cancer was merely
an unfortunate side effect.

Just like PATRIOT taking away your civil liberties is just an unfortunate side effect.

So, what does this PATRIOT bill involve? It's Know Your Enemy time, kids:

First, it gives law enforcement authorities the blanket ability to wire-tap any and all communications devices (telephone, e-mail, cellular phones, smoke
signals, etc.) belonging to any "suspected terrorist" without having to worry about court orders or any of the other "normal investigative procedures" that
currently hinder their pursuit of truth, justice and the American way.

Next, the FBI's Internet surveillance tool, Carnivore, gets increased usage -- but don't worry, the FBI just wants to read your e-mail to make sure that you're
not a "suspected terrorist." Also, these wonderfully protective law enforcement agents, who have only your best interests at heart, can arrest and hold
non-U.S. citizens suspected of links to "terrorist activities" for up to seven days without charging them with a crime. And, instead of the wire-tapping permit
that is currently required, the voice mail of "suspected terrorists" would be handed over to law enforcement officials with only a search warrant necessary.

Not too worried yet? These extensions of police powers apply only to "suspected terrorists," right? Right! Only problem is, what exactly does the
government define as a suspected terrorist?

Well, the bill doesn't really say -- and that's the problem. Sure, there's some mention in the bill of a terrorist act consisting of actions committed with a
motive to influence or change the government, but that's about it in the definition department.

Kind of vague, eh? Not to mention that, in a republic like ours (America is not a democracy, no matter how often they may say so on the news), it's
supposedly the right of the citizens to attempt to influence or change the government when it does things that we disagree with.

So, by definition of the PATRIOT Act, who's a terrorist? Is it only people who force 767s to make unscheduled layovers into office buildings? Or could it be
the anti-capitalist protesters waving signs and banners in the street? Any protesters? A person who writes an angry letter to their congressional
representative?

Is "terrorist" the new buzzword that allows the authorities to do to you as they please, just like "Communist" was in the 1950s and "heretic" was back in the
days of the Inquisition?

And alarming as the new act may be to the civil libertarian in us all, the truly frightening thing is that the PATRIOT Act is an incredibly watered down
version of the totalitarian measures desired by the Bush White House. It shouldn't come as too much of a surprise from the man who once remarked, "there
should be some limits to free speech" in reference to a Web site printing unfavorable things about him during the election.

A little bit of math here -- the estimated death toll from the Sept. 11 tragedies currently stands at around 6,000. The total population of American is about
250 million. If something similar happens again, that gives you about a 0.0024 percent chance of being hit.

(And yes, I realize that meeting your fiery demise in a real-life remake of a '70s disaster film packs a more visceral punch than the threat of your
government spying on you.)

However, if the PATRIOT Act of 2001 gets signed into law (and it seems pretty likely), the chance of you falling under its authority are a cool 100 percent.
Basically, just like your chances with every other civil liberties-restricting law enacted by your Lords and Masters in Washington.

Tell me now, who's the Real Enemy?

Woock, a senior psychology 
major, can be reached via dccampus@mail.uh.edu.


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