The Patriot Act vs. the Constitution
By Katarina Uhalova
The Patriot Act was established after the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center and its main point was to protect people from terrorism. Specifically, it allows FBI agents to search personal information of people, to read their emails, and listen to their private phone calls. Before the Patriot Act, the agents were not allowed to do this kind of research. They would need to have the permission of a judge.
The Patriot Act breaches the First Amendment, which declares our rights to freedom expression, speech and information. Freedom of information and individual liberty had a tremendous impact on the people in the 20th century, which allowed them to have their perceptions and examine situations from their own point of view. The Fourth Amendment should also protect us from search and seizure. Our society should deny the Patriot Act because it raises controversial issues, such as violating the Constitution and having a tremendous impact on our social lives.
One of the first reasons why the Patriot Act violates the First Amendment rights is because, as it states, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."
These words are stated in the Constitution and they should be respected at all times. Evidently, the Patriot Act violates freedom of speech in the way that people are losing the right to say what and how they truly feel. We have to be careful with the use of words about politics or government because we can be prosecuted. To illustrate it another way, the Patriot Act violates the democratic rights of the freedom of political expression. Furthermore, the Patriot Act researches what people are saying, which makes them very careful with their vocabulary and the meaning of words they use. Even though the government cannot deny our rights to react on certain political issues, the Patriot Act restricts what we can say. These important issues bring the Patriot Act into conflict with our constitutional rights and deny us the right to act freely. “The real protection of free expression rights lies not in the words of the First Amendment. Rather, it lies in the people’s willingness to appreciate and support those rights” (Dautrich & Bare, 2005). As the Nieman Reports described, the First Amendment individual liberties are based on the people and they should be able to fight for them. The First Amendment emphasizes very important issues of free speech, free press and free expression, and the Patriot Act in the way of denying people the right to freely act upon governmental and political issues ruins these.
Another way in which The Patriot Act is a controversial issue is the Fourth Amendment. The Fourth Amendment in the Constitution of the United States guarantees that: “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 Patriot Act violates the Fourth Amendment in every point, which should be the concern of every person, because “it violated the Constitution by giving federal authorities unchecked power to obtain the private information” (Swartz, 2004). The Patriot Act allows the federal government to take away the property of a supposed terrorist without notice or the agreement of the judge, even though the person can be innocent. The FBI can search private re c o rds within financial institutions, which are our personal documents and should 13 be protected and not searched by law. They can also look into personal records such as medical, phone, internet, student or library records.
Why is anybody concerned about our favorite books or movies? That should be just our own interest. The Federal Agents do not need to have or show any reasons that a person is engaged in criminal or political activity to search the person. The FBI agents do not need to prove any criminal charges against her/him. Furthermore, a person can be above suspicion. The Fourth Amendment illustrates and gives us examples of the points in which The Patriot Act violates human rights against unreasonable search that are clearly interpreted in the basic law of our state.
In addition, The Patriot Act violates the democratic structure of the state. According to Abraham Lincoln, democratic government should be, “government of the people, by the people and for the people.” This description of democracy contains a message for us as human beings. Furthermore, we are people who live in a democratic society, but our rights are tightly controlled by the federal government. The Patriot Act gives the right to access sensitive information about people, which makes it a controversial issue. If this is a democratic society, then we cannot be afraid about what we say, read, or do. The Constitution is the basic law for democracy, and by violating its Amendments with the Patriot Act, we violate democracy.
In the case of personal liberties, such as private phone calls, Olmstead vs. USA alerts us to the fact that the taping of phones should be restricted. This was in the 1920s and it should be upheld in today’s society. “Some of this speech that will be silenced is speech that is important to an open democracy” (Hudson, 2006). Freedom of speech in the phone call portrays an important aspect of the democracy. No matter how technology or society changes, we still should take into account an understanding of Constitutional law. Democracy should protect us from searches of our email or web pages, which the Patriot Act encourages, and guarantee us our private liberties to do what we please. We will always have some limitations but the government (federal agents) should not read our emails or listen to our phone calls. Otherwise, we will need to be very careful with our vocabulary and words. The Founding Fathers established our personal liberties, and democracy represents their basic laws, which are disobeyed by the Patriot Act.
People who disagree might argue that The Patriot Act was not meant to violate the privacy of the people but to protect them from the terrorism. President Bush in a 2005 speech explained that it is to protect the people. He explains, “The Patriot Act is essential to protecting the American people against the terrorists. The Act tore down the wall between law enforcement and intelligence officials so that they can share information and work together to help prevent attacks.” Its intention was good in the beginning before establishing the Patriot Act, but after we examined it in real life, we see that the Patriot Act does not just violate our rights, but also prohibits new ideas. It gives the right to government officials to search financial statements, and library, movie, and business records of private persons. Moreover, the Patriot Act is in conflict with the most important rules of the United States, the Constitution.
In conclusion, The Patriot Act does not just violate the Constitution, but re p resents the loss of our individual liberties by violating our freedom of speech, information, and expression as stated in the First Amendment and the protection from search and seizure guaranteed by the Fourth Amendment. Most serious is that it threatens democracy and gives the FBI uncontrolled power to gain personal information without adequate charges. For all of these reasons we should realize our liberties and fight for them.