The expiration of the Patriot Act has brought the conversation of freedom from surveillance versus freedom from terrorism to the public domain. How much personal liberty should we give up in order to make the homeland safer?
Balancing the rights protected under the Fourth Amendment against the need to prevent another Sept. 11, 2001 attack has left Congress with a difficult decision.
Hawks argue that the diminution of personal freedom is a necessary evil that must be sacrificed in order to make the world a safer place. Our Founding Fathers added the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution because they were well aware of the evils of government intrusion into the lives of their subjects without probable cause.
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Spying on citizens without probable cause can lead to a totalitarian state. Just look at the old Soviet Union or Nazi Germany to see what can happen when there is no Fourth Amendment to protect you. Once the government has the unfettered discretion to watch wherever we go or listen to whatever we say, we are getting uncomfortably close to a police state.
If one has done nothing wrong, then they have nothing to fear from the government.
History has proven this statement woefully wrong. We have already seen government encroachment into our personal lives beyond anything one could have imagined only a decade ago. It's not a stretch to imagine using the power of government surveillance to arrest citizens who do not agree with the government or with the views of the political party in power. We have already seen the Internal Revenue Service used as a government tool to quiet or shut down organizations that were in opposition to Obama administration policy.
Freedom of expression is one of the primary reasons that the American experiment was so successful. We have been allowed to express new ideas that became new realities that made our world a better place.
If we are afraid that our thoughts shared with others could result in our detention without a warrant, are we likely to speak freely? Open dissent against governmental policy is protected by the First Amendment. Without it we would be sent back 300 years to a society that could not speak out against the tyranny of tyrants prevalent throughout Europe.
Against this backdrop we have to decide what amount of government surveillance and intrusion is necessary in order to protect us from another attack. The issue is not whether we should wiretap, monitor cell phones or obtain private records of individuals. The issue is whether we should commit these acts without a duly authorized search warrant.
Secret tribunals conducted without oversight authorizing the seizure of private records or the monitoring of private conversations is a violation of the Fourth Amendment.
In the absence of an extreme emergency, shouldn't the government be required to comply with the Constitution? Without constitutional restraints, the government can and probably will take more and more of our personal liberties from us.
It might seem trivial, but should the government tell us what kind of light bulbs we can use in our homes or how long we can stay in a shower? There is currently a proposal to limit the length of showers while staying at a hotel in order to conserve water.
Should the government have the right to prevent us from withdrawing money from our own accounts and removing it to another country? How is this going to prevent another terrorist attack?
I am not against using the tools of our spy agencies to thwart terrorist plots. I am against using those tools without probable cause and/or without a duly issued search warrant. The Constitution has proven itself remarkably adaptable for over 225 years. The Constitution does not need to be adapted to our times; it is our times that need to be adapted to the Constitution.
John Lawrence Allen, a nationally recognized legal expert, represents investors nationwide in securities arbitration. Mr. Allen’s second book, “Make Wall Street Pay You Back,” was just released. For more information visit www.MakeWallStreetPayYouBack.com.
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