The panic spurred by the 9/11 attacks must be subsiding – the American Civil Liberties Union is reclaiming Americans’ rights.
U.S. District Judge Victor Marrero, N.Y., touted First Amendment rights recently, striking down parts of the USA Patriot Act in an encouraging step toward restoring rights trampled by the 2001 act.
Marrero ruled unconstitutional the “national security letters,” which allow the FBI to demand e-mail and telephone data from private companies, according to a Sept. 7 article in The Washington Post.
The decision draws attention to the act’s potential to infringe on free speech.
Americans would abhor sacrificing any freedoms were they not in wartime and wary of terrorist attacks, and Marrero’s ruling launches an overdue examination of the unconstitutional act. However, the decision will restrict only one unregulated infringement on private conversations allowed by the act.
This decision should spur similar rulings on other unconstitutional provisions in the act.
Title II of the Patriot Act, Enhanced Surveillance Procedures, authorizes “the interception of wire, oral, and electronic communications for the production of evidence,” allowing too much leeway and little regulation.
The act aims for “terrorism offenses” and “computer fraud and abuse,” but it renders citizens vulnerable to another power – their government.
The act tramples privacy and regulates speech by authorizing voice mail seizure with a warrant, subpoenas of credit card or bank account numbers for records and private communication disclosure “to protect life and limb.”
Such hazy regulations leave private citizens’ right to freedom of speech, as guaranteed by the First Amendment, open to unwarranted invasion.
Clearly, the government takes full advantage of its unchecked powers under the act. The Post reported that before Congress enacted the Patriot Act, the FBI issued 9,000 national security letters in 2000. The number more than tripled in 2005, when the FBI issued about 50,000 letters.
The Justice Department most surely will appeal Marrero’s ruling. In 2004, Congress passed legislation to appease Marrero while the executive branch appealed his similar 2004 decision; however, the legislation did little to include oversight from the courts.
Now, we hope for a stronger response from Congress, which must correct the lax oversight by the judicial branch through tougher legislation – and the governed must insist Congress do so.
This act as it exists affects issues like identity theft, travel and communication across the country, said Melanie Castleberg, instructor of political science.
After 9/11, America appreciated her national security more than ever. But Americans pay far too costly a price for security under the Patriot Act. Write letters, make phone calls and speak out against suffocation of your freedom of speech.