NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Things that Keep Civil Libertarians Awake Nights

December 13, 2002

The events of September 11 of last year prompted a spate of new laws and executive orders which may be defended on national security grounds, but they make liberty-loving Americans nervous. Some of the changes seem to run contrary to the goals of a society famed for its devotion to personal privacy and individual freedom.

Here are a few of the new policies that need close attention, least they be abused, critics say:

  • The U.S.A. Patriot Act has conferred huge concentrations of power on the executive branch.
  • The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act has made it easier for the federal government to access personal and business records, and relaxed authorization of Internet surveillance and wiretaps.
  • Hundreds of deportation hearings have been held in secret by the Immigration and Naturalization Service -- without a jury and without access by the defendants to legal counsel.
  • Attorney General John Ashcroft has given the Justice Department authority to monitor talks between detainees and their lawyers, without a court order -- despite constitutional guarantees of an unimpeded right to counsel.

Then there is the Terrorism Information and Prevention System (TIPS) that would have created about 11 million informants -- such as mail carriers, utility employees and others with unique access to private homes. Their mission was to help the Justice Department build yet another database containing names of persons not charged with any wrong doing.

Even if one has such confidence and faith in this administration that he would trust it with these powers, what about these powers being transferred into the hands of future administrations whose qualities are unknown? Such questions keep civil libertarians awake nights.

Source: Robert Levy (Cato Institute), "Why Civil Libertarians Are Uneasy," Washington Times, December 12, 2002.


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